Former Labour MP for Bassetlaw Joe Ashton was at the Hillsborough Disaster and saw the tragedy unfold. He later became a director of Sheffield Wednesday and lives a few miles from the ground. Here, in an interview with his daughter Lucy Ashton, he recounts the horror of the day.
After a historic inquest lasting two years, jurors today returned a number of verdicts on the Hillsborough Disaster. The most damning was that the 96 fans had been unlawfully killed.
Bassetlaw Labour MP Joe Ashton, who had campaigned in Parliament for improvements to football stadiums, was a lifelong Sheffield Wednesday supporter. He had been invited to the match by the Football Association and was sitting with England manager Bobby Robson.
He remembers: “Around 15 minutes before kick-off, we started to see the crowd. I said to Bobby ‘there’s going to be trouble’ because part of the stand was empty but the other part was full and you could see the crowd getting pushed.”
“We went downstairs into the changing room where all the players were ready to go and we started telling people that the match shouldn’t go ahead.”
“The referee didn’t know what to do as people were telling him different things so finally he sent the players out.”
The match started but Joe says it quickly became obvious something catastrophic was unfolding in the stand.
“People were getting terribly crushed,” he said. “You could see people jumping on the pitch to save themselves, quite rightly. I told Bobby Robson ‘this is trouble mate’ and the ref stopped the match.”
“The fans started running onto the pitch and the police were trying to stop them but I was shouting ‘leave them, let them on the pitch’ as I could see they were trying to escape the crush.”
“People were climbing up walls and hanging off them. Dads were pushing their kids up in the air to get them out but the kids couldn’t hang on and were falling back into the crowd. I realised people were suffering but no one knew at this point that people were dying.”
Joe recalls how it was utter chaos. “Everyone you could think of was trying to get to Hillsborough. I’ll always remember the Salvation Army, they were passing in a van but when they heard what was happening inside the ground they stopped and came in to help people.”
“It was complete chaos, nobody knew what was happening and word went out that the Government was worried about rioting. I remember Sheffield residents living nearby opened their homes to the fans. One woman let fans use her phone to call their families and even though they were traumatised, they left a pile of money on her table to pay for their calls.”
Joe returned home shell-shocked and spent several hours taking calls from the media. “The press had seen me at the match, they knew a lot fans were in serious trouble but no one knew yet how many had died. I was stunned when I realised how many people had died.”
The following days were still chaotic. “The police waited for the government to tell them what to do, but nobody in government knew what to do. This was a disaster which had the same effect as the Titanic sinking. When Parliament held a session in the following days, you could hear a pin drop.”
Twenty-seven-years on, Joe hopes the unlawfully killed verdict will bring some justice for the families.
He says passionately: “It was the families who stuck at it for years and years, the poor sods who lost their kids. These were normal, working-class mothers taking on the government, the police and The Sun and it was a cover-up lasting years. It was only through their determination that this latest inquest was held. They were grieving parents who never gave up.”
Lucy Ashton is a journalist and former Political Editor