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Courtesy of Press Association - September 23

A Liverpool fan climbed out of an overcrowded central terrace pen to an adjoining one which was "quite empty", the inquest into the Hillsborough tragedy has heard.

Ian Devine said pen 2 in the Leppings Lane end at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final was "not even remotely full" compared to pen 3 which he first entered about five minutes before kick-off on April 15.

He said the outside of the turnstiles was congested when he arrived at about 2.30pm and that police on horseback were pushing the crowd back.

When he eventually got in through the turnstiles he walked up the facing central tunnel and was not aware of any other access to the terracing, he said.

Mr Devine said there were "a couple of stewards" in the inner concourse but he saw no police officers there or near to and in the tunnel.

The hearing in Warrington has heard that 96 Liverpool fans died at the match against Nottingham Forest following crushing in the central pens 3 and 4 of the Leppings Lane terrace at Sheffield Wednesday's ground.

Jonathan Hough QC, counsel for the inquest asked: "As you entered the pens from the tunnel how crowded were they?"

The witness said: "Well the pen we at first walked in was very crowded. We knew we had to move because it was getting ... it was worse at the back so we tried to move over to the right and get under a couple of barriers and then that's where we ended up, to try to get away from the tunnel because more people were just coming in."

When he reached the radial fencing separating pens 2 and 3 he said the congestion became worse.

Mr Devine said: "It was getting tighter."

Mr Hough asked: "Did you become worried?"

He replied: "Yes. A lot of people were. Especially when you knew the pen next to you was quite empty."

He said he climbed over into pen 2 after seeing others doing so and later saw fans being pulled up into the stand above.

Mr Devine said he did not see any police officers on the terrace at the time, only six to eight standing facing the crowd on the perimeter of the pitch.

He said supporters became more "agitated" as the game was about to kick-off and he heard cries and screams.

Mr Devine said he witnessed a police officer stood at the front of pen 2 who fans were screaming at to let them out.

"I don't think he knew what was going on really," he said.

The witness said he eventually went on to the pitch where he found a friend who he had been separated from and was being treated for injuries.

Mr Devine said: "Obviously you don't realise at the time what was wrong with him but he was just lying on a board."

He was being looked after by fellow supporters and then was taken to the gymnasium at the ground.

Mr Devine said: "When we got to the gym we were told 'injuries to one side, dead to the other'."

He disagreed with John Beggs QC, representing three retired chief superintendents, that he had the option of walking back down the tunnel once he saw pen 3 was over-full.

Rajiv Menon QC, representing bereaved families of the victims later asked him: "I don't know if it's being suggested that you and other fans who arrived at this time and who chose to enter these over-full pens somehow contributed, deliberately contributed, to the overcrowding and crushing - and by extension to the loss of life that followed - but if that is being suggested what would your response be?"

Mr Devine said: "Well I know that's not true because all we done is went through the turnstile and in the tunnel and went in to watch a football match."

He went on to tell Mr Menon that pen 2 was "not even remotely full" before he climbed over.

In his 1989 statement to West Midlands Police he listed four main points he observed surrounding the disaster.

He wrote: "One, a lack of control by police or stewards on the entrance to the ground from Leppings Lane.

"Two, a lack of or insufficient police officers and stewards inside the ground.

"Three, a lack of any contingency plans to deal with an incident of this scale.

"Four, insufficient medical personnel and equipment for such an event."

He also noted that the police operation on the approach to the ground was not of the standard of the 1988 semi-final at Hillsborough which he also attended.

He told the inquest that he stood by that account.

Next giving evidence via videolink from Miami, United States, was Liverpool fan David Cruice who attended both the 1988 and 1989 FA Cup semi-finals.

He said he considered the policing operation in 1988 as "very, very good".

Mr Cruice said: "I was actually surprised at how efficient the operation was. You couldn't get anywhere near the turnstiles without proving you had a ticket."

In contrast he said his ticket was not checked a year later and that the scene as he approached the Leppings Lane turnstiles was "very chaotic" as he arrived at 2.35pm.

He said: "It was an unorganised mass of people. I would not use the term queues. It was just a large wedge of people moving towards the turnstiles.

"I believe there were four mounted officers. The only two on foot I saw were right next to the turnstile I passed through."

Describing the behaviour of the crowd at the turnstiles, he said: "A lot of concern, I would say. I would not call it panic but a lot of anxiety.

"Really not the kind of situation I had experienced previously trying to get inside a stadium. It almost felt like were standing on a terrace rather than trying to enter a stadium."

Ten to 15 minutes later he said he entered the stadium with friends and went through the central tunnel directly in front of him.

He said: "There was no police or stewards directing anybody on to the terraces."

He said he believed he entered pen 3 at about 2.50pm - the jury has heard previously that police ordered an exit gate at the Leppings Lane end to be opened at 2.52pm as an estimated 2,000 people came through with a "significant number" heading through the same central tunnel.

Asked about the density of crowd in pen 3, he answered: "It was very dense at that time but it was not anything to be concerned about. You could see that particular pen was close to capacity but it was not anything unusual."

He said the mood of the crowd was "very, very good, very happy, very excited".

Mr Cruice said he and his friend, Andrew, moved to the front of a crush barrier.

Christina Lambert QC, counsel for the inquest, asked him: "Did there come a point when you felt the crowd around you tighten up?"

"Yes," the witness replied.

"I think it was just shortly before 3, between 2.55 and 3. It became extremely difficult to move. Both Andrew and I were forced against barrier 136A.

"It was really an extremely condensed mass of people. People trying to stay on their feet, trying to make room for themselves." He said he became aware of fans attempting to climb out of pen 3.

His friend was now pressed up against the barrier, he said.

Mr Cruice said: "I was standing behind him to his right and he sort of looked around at me.

"He was bent over far forward over the barrier. His face was very, very red. His eyes were wide open. Significant distress and panic on his face.

"He said something like 'help me, get me off this barrier'.

"I was trying to help him back but was it was just no use. There was that much pressure behind us coming from the tunnel, directly behind us."

He said his friend was eventually dislodged from the barrier after he managed to get to the front of the barrier.

Mr Cruice said: "The top of his body was across at a 90 degree angle to his legs. His head was about the height of my stomach.

"At that point I was focused on getting Andrew from in front of the barrier. It became clear that at that point, I will be honest with you, if I did not get him off the barrier I did think he was going to die.

"I was shouting or screaming for the people around Andrew to help me and to get him off the barrier and I will always remember this sight because given how much pressure there was and what Andrew was going through and all the people were around him were experiencing the same thing. When I shouted for help it seemed that all these hands came over from behind him and starting pulling him back off the barrier as best as they could, even given the distress that people were in themselves. They were still doing everything they could to, you know, help others."

He said around this period his arms were trapped down by his side and he intermittently stopped breathing.

Mr Cruice described the crowd screaming to the police to open a gate on to the pitch for "what seemed like a very, very long time".

He said: "I think the police were under the impression that you could simply move back. People were shouting that 'people were dying in here'.

"I don't think they realised where the pressure was coming from ... down from the tunnel and down on to the front of the terrace."

He said he thought the gate was finally opened shortly after 3.05pm and that police were reaching in and trying to drag out unconscious fans and bodies but he said other fans did not go through the gate.

He told the inquest: "I think at that point there was a realisation. The significance of what had gone on at the front as the pressure relieved behind us. I never saw anybody on their feet leaving through that gate."

He said he was later reunited with his friend and they left the stadium at about 3.30pm and sat outside.

Later he found he had suffered bruising to his chest and the top of his legs.

Miss Lambert asked him what his opinion was of the police response after the game had been stopped at 3.06pm.

He replied: "I think they did everything they could... I think it was more reactionary I would say.

"Basically the police officers were doing everything they could to help the victims at that time."

But during the crushing in the pens he said of the police: "There was certainly not much organisation there because the police officers at the front were obviously unaware what was causing the pressure on the fence.

"The police officers were shouting at the fans to move back. There did not seem to be any communication or realisation by the officers inside the ground as to what had gone on outside the ground."

The inquest heard that two officers from West Midlands Police - who were independently investigating the South Yorkshire Police response to the disaster - visited him at his home in Birkenhead in April 1989 to take a statement.

This year he told officers from Operation Resolve - the ongoing criminal investigation into the disaster - that he had mentioned the differences in policing at the 1988 and 1989 FA Cup semi-finals but that he was surprised when he re-read his statement to see the comments were not in there, although he agreed had signed it at the time.

He said he recalled the 1989 interview was not "free-flowing" but "loosely guided".

Mr Cruice said: "It was the trauma of the day that was still at the foremost of my mind. It was something I did mention during the conversation. I was focused more on the emotional and physical aspects of my experience."

Another Liverpool supporter, Gary Gains, said he too entered the central tunnel and went into pen 3.

He found himself pushed up against a crush barrier with a young man, aged 15 or 16, who was in front of him.

He said he was being pressed against the teenager from the force of the pressure behind.

Mr Gains said he heard the youngster's knee crack, which led to the boy screaming.

Asked what the police were doing at this stage on the pitchside, he replied: "Nothing."

He said: "Long before the lad's knee had been pinned against the barrier, we were screaming to the police then that there were people dying in the terrace."

Then he heard a shout that "the barrier's going".

He said the barrier collapsed and he ended up on top of the boy who was in front of him.

By this time he said his foot was trapped in the barrier as he was pinned with other fans landing on top of him.

Mr Gains said: "Eventually, two Liverpool supporters took either arm and kept pulling and pulling and pulling me, but I think I was saying 'My leg is trapped in the barrier'. Eventually they managed to pull me free."

He was carried on to the pitch and was later approached by two policemen.

He said: "One of them said to me 'You're just like one of my brothers'.

"I couldn't understand why he said it, you know, as if it's the first time he's seen a Liverpool fan and what his perception of a Liverpool fan was."

Mr Gains had a sprained and cut ankle and was treated for shock.