For eight people from Lincolnshire, it started as day out to watch a football game. What unfolded was a disaster that cost the lives of 96 people and would change the sport forever. It would lead to allegations of a cover up. Finally, 23 years after Hillsborough, new documents have been released. Included are the statements of four off duty Lincolnshire Police Officers from one of the darkest days in the game. Here sports editor John Pakey and reporter Paul Whitelam piece together the statements to reveal how they survived and tried to save others...
The release of documents about the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy has been devastating for those police officers who were in charge that day.
But those same documents have, only now, shown the bravery of four Lincolnshire Police officers who were at the ground as fans.
As supporters were being crushed to death at the Leppings Lane end, these four men risked their own lives to save others. One of them, Detective Constable Christopher Dawson found himself used as a human stepladder, as other fans scrambled over him to get over the fence.
Meanwhile, another officer, who is not named in the documents, only just survived after he was hauled over a crash barrier to safety.
The pair found themselves caught up in the crush with their two friends, Chris and Karen Lockett. Thankfully, they escaped.
The four had started the day with tickets for the Nottingham Forest part of the crowd. However, after swapping them for Liverpool ones outside the stadium, they joined the throng of people trying to enter the ground at the Leppings Lane end.
They came close to not making it into the ground when the unnamed officer, who was carrying the tickets, discovered that his wallet containing them had been stolen. With all four eager not to miss out on the game, they made a complaint to on-duty police.
After reporting the theft, they were guided into the Leppings Lane end and by 2.30pm they were in pen three.
In his statement, DC Dawson explained that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But that was about to change.
"We entered pen three and stood near to the back and the pen appeared to be full," it read.
"Fans were singing and chanting in good humour.
"Within minutes of standing near to the rear, I felt myself being pushed into the back and from the left-hand side by other supporters. I tried to keep hold of Karen and that was the last time I saw Chris and my other colleague on the terracing. At this point I knew that it was going to be very tight and I was beginning to perspire very quickly."
The unnamed officer revealed that he was separated from the rest of the party at 2.45pm.
He said he had been in tighter crowds at football matches but, ten minutes later, a big surge from the back saw him moved halfway down the terrace. Moments after this he witnessed his first death.
"A lad of about 16 years was pressed with his face against my right shoulder, he said to me 'I can't breathe, get me out'. I could see the colour starting to go from his face and he stared to scream 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe'. I tried to get my arms up to lift him out but I couldn't. I turned to a lad on the left and said, 'come on, let's get him out'. I turned around to look at the lad and he was on the floor, face up. I looked at him and he was obviously dead."
The surges had pushed DC Dawson and Karen to the front of the terrace. It was now that people were starting to be crushed against the front fence. DC Dawson's statement read: "As soon as we found ourselves at the front of the terracing the crush from left, right and behind appeared to get stronger. At this point my hair was soaked with sweat, as well as my entire body. I was finding it difficult to breathe because of the crush in the upper part of my body."
Dawson was fighting to try to protect Karen. Holding onto the fence he tried to shield her from injury as the overcrowding caused chaos and panic. And according to Dawson it appeared the police on duty were oblivious to the situation and slow to react.
"At one point I saw some police officers at the front facing us and it appeared to me that they didn't realise what was happening. By this time the fear in myself and for Karen increased dramatically.
"I was screaming at the police officers to get the fencing down. At one point police officers got onto the fencing, obviously they then realised what was happening and began to pull the fencing towards them with great strength."
With police on the fencing, fans were starting to climb up and over onto the pitch but only after clambering over people like DC Dawson who were stuck at the fence.
"There were people from behind me trying to grab the fencing to pull themselves out and they were using people at the front, including myself, to either kneel or stand on our backs or shoulders to reach out for the fencing.
"Karen was in a state of shock and my fear for her life and her condition was worsening all the time."
DC Dawson was now in a situation where he had to act to get Karen out and over the fence. But in doing so he put his own life at greater risk.
"As far as I recall, someone pulled Karen over the top of the fencing and I felt myself being crushed against it from where Karen had stood. I felt the strength in my body begin to deteriorate very rapidly."
DC Dawson was now fighting for his own life.
"On realising the strength in my legs was weakening at one point I found my arm reaching and grabbing the fencing and my chest being pushed into it. For a split second I looked up into the sky and thought there's no way out, I'm going to die.
"The people that were stood around me could clearly be seen to be in the same state as myself and I noticed one or two faces losing colour rapidly and some faces were beginning to turn blue. One lad who had been pulling on the left hand side of my sweater had suddenly let go and he seemed to disappear into other bodies."
DC Dawson had to summon the strength to get himself out of the crush. He began to pull himself up with the top half of his body, square by square on the fence, before being helped over the top and down onto the pitch.
When he turned around and looked back at the terracing it was to witness a scene of devastation.
"I fell on my knees with my head in my hands. I was shaking, sweating and felt exhausted. I was crying. I looked back on to the terracing and there were bodies laid all over each other and people still trying to get out, crying and screaming for their lives, for some help."
While DC Dawson managed to pull himself out over the barrier, the unnamed officer needed help to free himself. In his attempt to pick up someone who had fallen over he was knocked to the ground.
"Both of us were on the floor. We could move about, but couldn't get ourselves up. I said to the lad 'don't panic', there was another surge and I looked up and shouted 'get us up'. Then there was a really big surge and people were walking on me."
Another lad fell onto the pair and they found themselves trapped against the bottom of a crowd barrier.
"By this time my legs were starting to become very uncomfortable, so I said to the two lads 'keep looking at the blue sky, keep talking'. We were trapped, but able to breathe. The pain then became so intense in my legs, I thought that they were broken."
Trapped, his desperate cries were finally heard by four men who attempted to pull him free. But it was to no avail and as he blacked out it looked like he had been left for dead.
However, another fan noticed that he was still alive and hauled him over the barrier.
"I remember someone grabbed me by the jeans and got me out. I remember him saying 'he is still alive'. He just dropped me over the crash barrier and I started to come round a little bit.
The unnamed officer was still on the terracing in the West Stand. He started to help lift people into the stands above. He then managed to make his way down onto the pitch, where his next instinct was to try to help the victims.
"I did not see anyone alive and passed through the gate onto the pitch. Then someone pulled me out onto the pitch.
"As I got onto the cinder track, there was a line of bodies. I thought one of them was still alive, I gave him mouth-to-mouth for about two minutes, but did not get anywhere. I gave up and tried another one. I didn't succeed in reviving him, I only tried because he still had colour in his cheeks."
The unnamed officer was then reunited with DC Dawson.
"I saw DC Dawson and asked him if everyone was all right, he said that Karen had broken her arm, but was all right. We both broke down and cried."
All four who had entered at the Leppings Lane end had now escaped the crush, but the danger was not over. DC Dawson, on trying to leave the pitch, felt his legs give way and needed oxygen before being finally helped out of the ground The party reunited at the cars and finally left Sheffield at 5pm.
On reflection, DC Dawson and the unnamed officer believed that the situation was unprecedented and that emergency services did as much as they could.
Dawson said: "From what I saw of the police operation and the way the officers responded, the way it became apparent to them at the front of the terracing, they did everything they could as did other emergency services and members of the public."
However, both felt the behaviour of the press on the day was bad, with Dawson particularly scathing in his statement.
"From the experience I had with the media I criticise them as only being interested in taking photographs when they could have been assisting people who were dying.
"I was disgusted at the insensitivity of the reporters who approached us following the disaster."
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