“The match shouldn’t go ahead” Former MP Joe Ashton recalls the horror of Hillsborough

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.

The human crush killed 96 people and injured 766 others at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

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

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6 Responses to ““The match shouldn’t go ahead” Former MP Joe Ashton recalls the horror of Hillsborough”

  1. Tafia says:

    A some very good quotes:-

    “At the heart of this is a deep seated hatred of ordinary working class people by the establishment. The South Yorkshire Police force have shown a similar disdain of the poor in Rotherham too. I am thrown back to the miner’s strike, the lies and demonisation of the people then and even now by the press and politicians in Westminster. I burst into tears. To wait 20 fucking years for justice is a disgrace. I am disgusted by the ruling classes in England. If this isn’t class war I don’t know what is. There is a reason why I live abroad.”

    “It is now time for all of those police officers involved in the cover up to be put on trial and if prosecuted, imprisoned. Secondly, there must be speedy and proper compensation granted to all of those families who suffered as a result of the gross and deliberate perversion of justice and stubborn abuses of due process over some 27 years by the very people entrusted with the responsibility for defending it.”

    “It beggars belief that it took 27 years to reach a verdict that the fans were not drunk or in any way to blame for the crush. The suggestion that enough fans were so drunk that they walked like zombies into a human crush is utterly ridiculous even to the least inquiring mind. At the very least more questions could – and should – have been asked at the time. Let this be a wake up call to not simply accept the line taken by authority. It’s a poignant lesson to learn on a day that the junior doctors are on strike because a tissue of lies by the obstinate Jeremy Hunt about weekend deaths in NHS hospitals. Ask questions, seek the truth and demand a government that does the same.”

    And the moral of the story is never trust authority. Don’t accept what they say just because they are ‘the great and the good’ and ‘must know what they are doing’.

    Always pay attention to what ‘they’ are doing, even if you aren’t interested and never ever accept what ‘they’ tell you. It’s not just Hillsboro – we ended up in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for exactlly the same reasons – ‘they’ lied. We ended up with mass abuse in Rotherham, Rochdale and other towns – because ‘they’ covered it up.

    27 years of authority lies and cover ups. Government after government lie after lie. Time for jail for some of them – politicians from all sides and police. For murder.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Historical cases are always hard to prove,due to intent,and a clear connection between those who (withheld/doctored/ twisted,allegedly) evidence

    The historic child abuse allegations have seen criticism of the CoS to being cases.

    Police are expected to have a higher level,of justification than doctors when someone dies after their contact,and if during their service a PC justifies their contact with someone resulted in a lawful killing, and then it’s reveled a jury, hadn’t had facts explained to them
    Decades later,if there’s a call for a new trial, then the PC cannot guarantee the evidence they had,that they’d used to ague the specific pint they acted lawfully, could be lost, if the evidence they needed, was different to the evidence they needed the first time, the they may have never have kept it at the time,

  3. Tony says:

    We should not overlook the fact that this took 27 years to achieve. Justice delayed is justice denied.

    Imagine if something like this had happened in an official enemy country. Our media and politicians would never stop going on about the injustice of it.

    Kelvin McKenzie got his fingers burnt on this but he could have made some effort to verify the police claims or reported them as claims. Too many journalists fail this basic test.

  4. What has impressed me most is the relatives you have said they’ve got what they wanted: the truth has been acknowledged and the libel of their loved ones exposed as an untruth.

    Also, the theme of love, of mutual support, for those who have suffered so much.

    There will, of course, be anger, but I hope it’s controlled anger.

    Clearly, it’s appalling what was done 27 years ago. But let’s not replace the trial by media of 27 years ago with another one today. Let justice take its course.

  5. Bobby Moore's shadow says:

    Nothing says “it was never about the money”, like suing for £20 million two days later…

    A whitewash with a predetermined outcome from day 1.

  6. Tafia says:

    Nothing says “it was never about the money”, like suing for £20 million two days later…

    I hope they get 20 million. In fact I hope they get a lot more and that it’s taken in the first instance directly from the people that caused this – their houses seized, bank accounts emptied and pensions confiscated and I hope the politicians from both sides of the House and Police commanders that continually lied and covered this up see their careers and reputations destroyed and the more senior ones tried for conspiracy and jailed for the rest of their lives.

    That is all they deserve.

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