Exclusive: 27 year fight for justice of Hillsborough dad after police slammed door in his face

A photo of Christopher Devonside, one of the Hillsborough victims.
A photo of Christopher Devonside, one of the Hillsborough victims.
  • Barry Devonside spent six agonoising hours searching for his son Christopher’s body after the Hillsborough disaster – and the next quarter of a century fighting South Yorkshire Police to establish the truth.
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CHRISTOPHER Devonside had the world at its feet on the day of the 1989 FA Cup semi-final. This all-round sportsman had celebrated his 18th birthday two weeks previously, passed his driving test and was preparing to take his A-levels and go to university. He never got the chance.

The night before the much-anticipated match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, Christopher persuaded his father Barry to allow him to stand with his friends on Hillsborough’s Leppings Lane terrace.

Barry Devonside

Barry Devonside

As Mr Devonside took his seat in the North Stand, he spotted his son at 2.35pm on the terracing wearing his distinctive, bright red Wales rugby top. It was the last time that he saw him alive.

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Every parents’ worst nightmare - one that still haunts Mr Devonside and his wife Jacqueline - was only just beginning.

It is one of many personal tales of betrayal and injustice chronicled in a haunting new book, Hillsborough Voices, which has been published after a two year inquest ruled that 96 Liverpool supporters were killed unlawfully.

Mr Devonside says his “blood ran cold” as the disaster unfolded. He says he knew instantly that this was “not a public order offence” and the anger is self-evident in his voice as he describes to The Yorkshire Post how “three or four officers pounded the chests of fans while hundreds were milling around doing next to nothing”.

As the game is abandoned, Mr Devonside returns to the pre-arranged rendez-vous point desperate to catch sight of Christopher’s bright red top.

Instead he sees his son’s friend Jason, grief etched across the face, who has the grim task of informing Mr Devonside that he has just carried Chris’s body to the gymnasium at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground, which had become a makeshift mortuary.

No words will ever do justice to Mr Devonside’s ordeal over the next six hours. “A Sheffield lady, Betty Thorpe, came up to me to see if she could help and she was an absolute angel,” he said.

“We went to the gymnasium door and the largest officer in the world answered the door and said ‘What do you want?’ I told him who I was, why I was there and gave him a detailed description of Chris, including the rugby top, and he said ‘Wait there’. He was gone 12 or 15 minutes and came back and said ‘Nobody of that description’. But Jason had told me he had carried Chris there.

“The door was slammed shut in my face.”

It was not the last time that he, and his fellow families, would face such obstructiveness.

Mr Devonside and his ‘guardian angel’ then spent the next hours visiting Sheffield’s two hospitals, and their mortuaries, in desperation.

“That officer was aggressive. He lacked professionalism and humanity,” he said. “As I result of that lie, I spent six hours looking for Chris when all of the time he was inside the gym.”

When Mr Devonside, by now joined by relatives from Liverpool, returned to the Hillsborough gym at 11pm and was able to identify Chris, he was taken aback by the police questioning which asked what they had to eat and drink on the journey from Formby to Sheffield.

This was the moment, says Mr Devonside, that he realised that the police would attempt to blame the tragedy on Liverpool supporters.

He says he was the only person to attend all 80 days of the original Sheffield inquest presided over by Dr Stefan Popper.

What he witnessed as the accidental death verdict was recorded sickens Mr Devonside to this day. “As I stood up to go, two policemen came up with spirits, wines and beers and went in to celebrate the verdict with the coroner,” he maintains. “A police officer saw me and slammed the door in my face.

“My wife and I have been married for 45 years, and for 27 years we have been fighting the justice system and South Yorkshire Police.”

He says he was even assaulted by a police officer when he was invited to meet Peter Wright, the then chief constable, after attending a meeting of the now defunct South Yorkshire Police Authority in Barnsley.

Though Mr Devonside was reassured by Home Secretary Theresa May’s personal update on Operation Resolve, the inquiry into the policing of Hillsborough, and the separate IPCC investigation into the subsequent cover-up, he says he told her that he - and others - will not settle until individual officers stand trial.

The magistrate says he, his family and fellow campaigners have been made out to be “criminals” for wanting the truth about how their loved ones died. “We’re the ones who have been on trial,” said Mr Devonside.

“As we said in our inquest statement, our son went to a football game on a sunny Saturday in England and never came home. His life was ended abruptly, prematurely and unnecessarily because of the failures of others preventing Chris from fulfilling his dreams.”