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Courtesy of Press Association - July 24
Two "spotter" seats for ambulance staff said to have been removed and sold for the Hillsborough 1989 FA Cup semi-final could have "made a difference" in flagging up earlier the unfolding tragedy, a senior ambulance chief said today.
The seats at Sheffield Wednesday behind the players' tunnel were used at league games to provide "the eyes and ears" in the ground at league matches but the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporter heard claims that the club removed them on April 15, 1989 and sold them to spectators for the all-ticket tie.
Instead of being positioned in elevated seats in the ground's South Stand the two station officers had seats at ground level between the Spion Kop and the North Stand, the jury sitting in Warrington heard.
The then chief metropolitan ambulance officer for South Yorkshire, Albert Page, told the hearings that the South Stand tickets were removed on the day and explained: "I was told that it was to sell them to spectators".
He said it was "less than desirable" that the new allocated seats for the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were at pitch level.
Jason Beer QC, representing Sheffield Wednesday, queried whether he was suggesting that the change in seats had "made a difference" to what his personnel could see in the Leppings Lane stand where fans were crushed.
Mr Page replied: "It did. Elevated seats would see inside the paddock at Leppings Lane.
"They would have seen the exit from the tunnel. They would have seen the build-up of people in that area, whereas from the ground straight in front was a line of police officers because they were talking about a pitch invasion."
Mr Beer pointed out that the jury would hear evidence from one of the senior ambulancemen who acted as one of the spotters on the day and he had stated that it was "impossible" to say whether the seat switch had made a difference.
The barrister also said he was unaware of the allegation that the club had sold the two seats for the semi-final and that evidence had been heard from the then club secretary that it was actually due to "a mix-up".
The inquests heard that the two complementary seats had been given to two senior ambulance staff from 1986 after Mr Page wanted an ambulance service presence inside South Yorkshire football clubs in the aftermath of the Bradford fire disaster the previous year.
He said the intention was for them to alert ambulance control if a problem arose within the ground and action needed to be taken.
But he added he did not expect the spotters to leave their seats unless "absolutely essential to do so" and it was the role of the police to patrol the ground.
Mr Page agreed with Pete Weatherby QC, representing some of the bereaved families, that the spotters "to a degree" provided "a ready-made control and command structure in place".
Mr Weatherby went on: "Do you agree that it was important that your senior officers at the match would speak with the senior police officers before the event occurred?"
The witness said: "I would imagine they would do so."
The barrister said: "It was very important for familiarisation, co-ordination with them, to inform the senior police officers where they were or how they would contact."
Mr Page said: "The police would have known where they were because they do that in conjunction with the club."
Mr Weatherby said: "And that was a pre-cursor to then what should happen under the (major incident) plan if something goes wrong and there is a major incident. That two of the things that ought to happen is that the ambulance control should contact the police control?"
"Yes," said Mr Page.
Mr Weatherby continued: "And the incident officer, the senior officer on the scene, should liaise with the police officers on the scene, the senior police officers on the scene. Would you expect that to happen?"
Mr Page replied: "I would expect that to happen."
Mr Page will return to give evidence later this year into events on the day of the disaster.
The inquests continue on Monday.