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Courtesy of Press Association - June 11

A fire chief on a committee responsible for ground safety was not aware of crushing incidents in the years before the Hillsborough disaster, the inquest heard today.

Alan Seaman, the assistant chief fire officer at South Yorkshire County Fire Service at the time of the 1989 disaster said he did not know about crowd crushing at matches in 1981 and 1987 before 96 Liverpool fans died at an FA Cup semi-final in April, 1989.

Mr Seaman, now retired, had held roles involving the fire safety of sports stadia in Sheffield up to March 1981, before moving to the Rotherham division and returning to the city in July 1985, the jury at the inquest in Warrington heard.

He was one of the senior officers of the fire service part of an advisory group, called the Officer Working Party, comprising of representatives of the county and city council, the club, police and fire service, which held regular meetings to oversee safety arrangements at Sheffield Wednesday FC's Hillsborough ground.

Jonathan Hough QC, counsel for the inquests, asked Mr Seaman if he was aware of any safety issues in a match during the 1987/88 season.

Mr Seaman replied: "No."

Mr Hough continued: "Were you aware of any incident at the 1987 FA cup semi?"

Mr Seaman replied: "No."

Mark George QC, representing 22 of the families who lost loved ones, asked Mr Seaman if he was aware of an even earlier incident, when 38 Spurs fans were injured and scores spilled on to the perimeter track at the Leppings Lane end of the ground during a crushing incident at the start of the 1981 FA Cup semi-final against Wolverhampton Wanderers on April 11, 1981.

Mr Seaman replied: "I did not know about that incident until after the disaster."

A month before the 1981 incident Mr Seaman had left Sheffield to work in Rotherham for the fire service, but he agreed the Officer Working Party responsible for ground safety should have been told about the incident - but he said they were not.

"Well so you say," Mr George replied.

Mr George referred the witness to a letter from Sheffield Wednesday FC, dated April 15, 1981, four days after the incident, to South Yorkshire County Council.

The safety certificate holder, the club, had a responsibility to the safety certificate issuer, the council, to tell them of any incidents, and the letter from the club suggested Spurs fans arriving late at the ground led to the crush, the jury heard.

But Mr Seaman was adamant even if the Officer Working Party were told the Fire Service representative was not.

He said: "Never under any circumstances did we ever get any notification from anybody about that crushing incident."

Mr George said: "You would expect the officer working party to be told about such an incident?"

Mr Seaman replied: "Yes I would."

Mr George continued: "I assume your colleagues must have been deeply amazed if it was years later when they first discovered that there had been such a crushing incident?"

Mr Seaman said: "Yes it was."

He said he would have expected the county council to have informed the Fire Service about any such incidents.

The witness was next questioned by Philip Kolvin, representing Sheffield City Council, which took over responsibility for issuing safety certificates on April 1, 1986, when South Yorkshire County Council was abolished following local government re-organisation.

Mr Seaman agreed that after the city council became responsible for issuing safety certificates there were no significant concerns raised about the safety of the Leppings Lane terrace or that the capacity was too high or that it was difficult controlling the number of people going into the pens.

Mr Kolvin continued: "There can't be many licensed premises which got that level of scrutiny from the authorities over such an extended period of time?"

Mr Seaman replied: "No, probably not."

Mr Kolvin asked the witness if it would be fair to say "this was a disaster which came right out of the blue?"

Mr Seaman replied: "I don't think we had seen it coming."