On March 31, new inquests into the deaths of the 96 fans who perished in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 began. With new inquests come many new voices who were not questioned as part of the Taylor report nor previous inquests, and today the juries heard testimony from Richard Chester, ex-secretary for Sheffield Wednesday from January 1984 to October 1986.
Chester had left the club two-and-a-half years prior to the disaster, but his testimony reinforced known concerns about the safety of the stadium at the time. He also shared information that was previously unknown regarding ad-hoc attempts at crowd control.
The Guardian has a full rundown of his testimony, but there are some key points that have been previously under-reported or unknown.
- On busy match days, Chester would hold back an allocation of 250 tickets to counteract the potential for crowding in the Leppings Lane end. No one was aware that he'd done this until he gave his testimony.
- Because the stadium had no mechanism for counting the number of fans entering each section, Chester and Chief Superintendent Brian Mole would monitor the size of the crowd in the central pens of the Leppings Lane end by "wandering around and having a look" at the crowds. Chester admitted this method was "ad-hoc" but that he'd made various other responsible parties at the club aware of his safety concerns and the need to pay strict attention to the Leppings Lane end.
- An expansion of the number of turnstiles in the Leppings Lane end from 23 to 34 was abandoned due to a construction cost of £127,000. The 34 turnstiles would been dedicated to specific sections of the stand, an improvement on the 23 that allowed supporters to go wherever they pleased once inside.
- Hillsborough's two supporters stands were the Leppings Lane end and the Spion Kop. The Kop contained the larger of the two standing sections, and Chester was surprised that for both the 1988 and the 1989 FA Cup semi-finals held at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, Liverpool were given the smaller stand despite having a much larger travelling fanbase.
- It was not unprecedented for a change to be made regarding which club was allocated which stand. A League Cup match between Sunderland and Norwich at Hillsborough saw the ends switched to allow Sunderland's larger fanbase to stand on the Kop.
Like all evidence given in these inquests, it quickly adds up to the extreme preventability of the disaster. Corners were cut, advice was ignored, policies and procedures were the opposite of rigorous, and 96 people lost their lives as a result. The inquests are ongoing, and you can read all previous transcripts here.