Under dark skies, inquest jury visits Hillsborough

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Jurors at the inquest into the 96 Hillsborough disaster deaths have stood at the exact site where most of the Liverpool fans who died in the tragedy lost their lives.

Under cloudy grey skies and intermittent showers, the 11-strong jury yesterday left the courtroom in Warrington behind for the day for a site visit to Sheffield, home of Hillsborough stadium.

Police watch as members of the media inspect the area outside the Leppings Lane area of Hillsbrough Stadium, Sheffield, during a visit to  by jurors

Police watch as members of the media inspect the area outside the Leppings Lane area of Hillsbrough Stadium, Sheffield, during a visit to by jurors

The jurors, who were hooked up to wireless headphones, were guided by coroner Lord Justice Goldring to some of the key locations in the ground, including pens three and four, as well as the tunnel leading into them, where the fatal crush occurred.

Huddling under umbrellas, jurors were also taken to the site of the former gymnasium, which was used as a make-shift morgue on the day of the disaster, but is now a Sheffield Wednesday shop.

Britain’s worst sporting disaster unfolded at the stadium on April 15 1989 during Liverpool’s match against Nottingham Forest as thousands of fans were crushed in the ground’s Leppings Lane terrace.

The fresh inquest into the disaster was ordered when a panel of three High Court judges, headed by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, quashed accidental death verdicts from an earlier hearing.

As they stood in pens three and four of the Leppings Lane terrace, jurors were told the area had “fundamentally changed”, that there are now seats where it was once standing only and fences have been removed.

Orange tape was put in place to illustrate the height of the fence dividing the two pens, where hundreds of fans gathered for the match.

A cane was placed at the front of the terrace to illustrate the height of the fence between the pitch and pens.

The coroner took the jury up either side of the seating area, on to the pitch and above it in a raised stand to view the pens from all angles.

Adjacent to the terrace is the police control box, which is much larger and in a slightly different location than its 1989 counterpart.

Beneath the police box, jurors were shown an unaltered section of terrace so they could see how the stands looked 25 years ago.

Markings from where crush barriers had been removed remained. Jurors were taken round the pitch perimeter, past the current players tunnel, along rows of empty seats, decorated in home team Sheffield Wednesday’s blue and white colours.

Aside from the coroner’s narration, the stadium was silent. Lord Justice Goldring explained the pitch is without grass as the football season has ended and it will be returfed.

The jury was then taken into the Sheffield Wednesday shop, once the site of a gymnasium, which on the day of the disaster was used to temporarily store the bodies of the dead.

Earlier, two coaches, escorted by police motorbikes and cars, transported the jury, counsel, court staff, the coroner and a small press pool to the stadium.

Lord Justice Goldring pointed out the White Horse pub, just off the A61, where some Liverpool supporters went before the match.

He also showed them the former site of Wadsley Bridge Train Station, from where Liverpool supporters were accompanied by police officers as they made their way to the stadium.

A marked police van closed off Leppings Lane as the jurors disembarked from the coach and were taken towards the entrance, site of gates A, B and C, all used by Liverpool fans on the day of the 1989 match.

Traffic and police cones were laid out to illustrate to jurors the layout of the entrance in 1989.