Revealed: Norfolk police praised Liverpool fans who visited Norwich City two weeks before 1989 Hillsborough Disaster
PUBLISHED: 16:41 29 September 2012
Liverpool fans were well behaved, formed “orderly and quiet queues” and did not arrive late to Carrow Road just two weeks before the Hillsborough Disaster.
Norfolk police documents released by the Hillsborough Independent Panel show visiting fans from Merseyside were praised as they arrived in Norwich on April 1, 1989, for a league game.
The panel’s disclosure of material also shows:
Norwich City fans were almost involved in a fatal crush in their FA Cup sixth round tie at West Ham on March 18, 1989;
A senior West Midlands officer alleged that, during their cup tie with Norwich, also on April 15, 1989, Everton supporters behaved in a manner similar to the way Liverpool fans had been alleged to have behaved at Hillsborough. He claimed this might have been representative of “some Liverpool characteristic”, given Everton is based in the same city. A South Yorkshire Police officer repeated these claims.
Ninety-six Liverpool fans died at the FA Cup semi-final tie with Nottingham Forest, on April 15.
This prompted South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and other emergency services to cover up their own failings in an attempt to blame the supporters for the disaster.
SYP accused Liverpool fans of being drunk, arriving late without tickets, trying to force their way in and being responsible for the tragedy. These claims were false.
Instead, it was the police’s failure to control the crowd and a poor emergency response which caused the tragedy. Forty-one of those people who died could also have been saved if the emergency services had dealt with the crisis better, the panel concluded.
The documents relating to Norwich City have emerged in more than 335,000 pages of newly disclosed material. These were publicly released this month and include a 701-page SYP investigation into the behaviour of Liverpool fans in the 1987/88 and 1988/89 seasons. Views of fellow forces were pulled together.
Furthermore, SYP attempted to present evidence which backed up its view of Liverpool fans arriving in Sheffield without tickets, drunk and causing trouble.
But Norfolk Constabulary’s report complimented the behaviour of the Liverpool fans in Norwich. The document, from Chief Superintendent Maxwell, who was in charge of policing the fixture, was dated June 9, 1989. The chief superintendent explained the game was made all-ticket and Liverpool’s recent success ensured a high interest in the game.
Police numbers were the biggest for any match during the 1988/89 season at Norwich, with 313 officers including special constables.
In total, 4,800 tickets were made available for Liverpool fans, but were only on sale in Liverpool itself.
Documents show 1,272 tickets had not been sold, but after discussions with the club, it was decided to sell these on the day, with Chf Supt Maxwell noting “Liverpool always attracted considerable national support”. The report explains a “significant crowd” assembled outside Carrow Road on April 1 by midday. Almost all were Liverpool supporters but the majority had tickets. By 1pm a “considerable crowd gathered”, although a number did not have tickets.
Chf Supt Maxwell explained: “Many said they were not aware it was an all-ticket match and others that they could not obtain tickets because they came from areas distant from Liverpool. I decided, therefore, to open two turnstiles and sell the returned tickets, after agreement with the club chairman, to Liverpool supporters for access to pen three.
“All the tickets were sold in this fashion and there is no doubt that some home supporters benefited in this way. They [Norwich City supporters] were, however, met by officers just inside the ground who directed them to accommodation reserved for home supporters.
“The visiting fans were quite well behaved and formed orderly and quiet queues outside the ground.
“They did not arrive late and all supporters were in the ground by 1500 hours.”
Inside the ground, six Norwich fans were arrested along with two Liverpool supporters. Two weeks later, Norwich City travelled to Villa Park to play in the other FA Cup semi-final against Everton.
West Midlands Police (WMP) filed a report on this game in June during the Hillsborough investigation.
It praised Canaries supporters but made allegations against Everton fans, including issues about queuing, ticketless fans and alcohol. Similar claims made against Liverpool fans – later proved false – were already circulating by then from the SYP.
A senior officer, in a letter accompanying the witness statements of three WMP officers, stated: “In my opinion, I had not previously experienced dealing with supporters in such great number who had consumed so much alcohol.
“Consequently, the accounts that I have read on Liverpool supporters’ behaviour at Hillsborough show some remarkable coincidences which may indicate some Liverpool characteristic.”
This language was repeated by Detective Inspector AM King, of SYP, who was compiling a report on the behaviour of Liverpool fans.
The final Norwich connection in the material submitted highlights the conditions football fans had to endure in the lead up to Hillsborough.
The Football Supporters’ Association evidence told of the issues reported at the end of City’s FA Cup sixth round tie at West Ham on March 18, 1989.
It said: “A public address announcement was made asking the Norwich fans to move towards the right hand section of terracing.
“As the fans complied with the request, severe pressure was created at the gates as many fans tried to squeeze through.
“This could have resulted in injuries to fans or even a disaster.”
Little more than a month later, the Hillsborough Disaster occurred, and the establishment cover-up kicked-in to gear. Twenty-three years on, the search for justice continues.