The Taylor Report
Any evaluation of the Taylor Report needs to highlight that there were, in fact, two Taylor Reports-The Interim Report and the Final Report. This is important because many people would refer only to the Final Report in the opinion that it was the definitive account, however, the two reports largely have a different emphasis. The Interim Report dealt with the cause of the disaster and surrounding issues whilst the Final Report had as its central tenet all seater statia. It would have been more accurate to refer to them as 'First and Second' Reports.
Immediately after the Hillsborough Disaster, the Home Office set up an inquiry under Lord Justice Taylor. It's remit was:
To inquire into the events at Sheffield Wednesday Football ground on 15th April 1989 and to make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports events.
The Inquiry which was held in Sheffield, began on 15th May 1989 and lasted thirty-one days. Taylor's findings as laid out in the Interim Report can be summarised as follows:
1. The immediate cause of the Disaster was the failure to cut off access to the central pens once gate C had been opened. This caused the overcrowding which led to the Disaster.
2. The central pens (3 and 4) were already overfull because there was no numerical control of entry nor any effective visual monitoring of crowd density.
3. Under the strain of overcrowding in Pen 3, a barrier collapsed, exacerbated by what Taylor referred to as the "sluggish reaction and response when the crush occurred". Lack of leadership and the small size and number of gates in the perimeter fencing hindered rescue attempts.
4. Gate C, an 'exit' gate between the inner concourse and the outside, was opened by the police because of the dangerous congestion at the turnstiles. There was no recognition, either by the club or the police, that unless fans arrived steadily over a long, drawn-out period the turnstiles would not be capable of coping with the large numbers involved. This was made worse by the fact that the operational order and police tactics did not consider the possibility of a large concentration of late arrivals. This situation, according to Taylor, was made worse by a drunken minority and the club's confused and inadequate signs and ticketing.
The Interim Report of Lord Justice Taylor was warmly received by bereaved families and survivors. However, time has proved the inadequacies of Taylor for reasons which will be explained here.
Taylor very clearly laid the blame for the disaster at the door of the police but in so doing he effectively 'let off the hook' those other agencies involved. On a more general level the Taylor Report can be criticised for its selective use of evidence. More than three and a half thousand statements were taken for the Inquiry together with one and half thousand letters received. Taylor stated that from this mass of evidence it was necessary to select:
...only sufficient good and reliable evidence...
Of course given that it was the West Midlands Police who were selecting this 'good and reliable evidence', then this begs the question 'good for whom'? The police actually used a grading Assessment to judge the quality of the witness - impressive, average, poor. Such selectivity exteneded to which witnesses were actually called to give evidence in person. Although Taylor stated that the cause of the disaster was the breakdown of police control he weakened his claim by elsewhere commenting upon the "excellent service" given by South Yorkshire Police:
...over many years the South Yorkshire Police have given excellent service to the public.
It was in this context that he referred to their excellent handling of large crowds including football fans and the miners dispute. Clearly many would disagree with his judgement here.
It is worth quoting albeit briefly, Taylor's views of those other agencies who many hold jointly responsible for the 96 dead.
He made no criticism of the Football Association in his Interim Report stating that their decision to use the Hillsborough ground as the semi-final for the second consecutive year was fine as the 1988 game :
...had been considered a successfully managed event.
However in his Final Report he criticised the venue:
...in selecting Hillsborough as the venue for the cup semi-final, the Football Aasociation did not consider in any depth whether it was suitable....
He did not though consider that the choice of venue was the main cause of the disaster. Taylor made criticism of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club stating that they had contributed to the disaster because:
The Leppings Lane end was unsatisfactory and ill suited.
Others would criticise both the Club and Sheffield City Council for the fact that the ground did not have a valid safety certificate:
The certificate took no account of the 1981 and 1985 alterations of the ground.
Taylor made no criticism of the Emergency Services:
...no valid criticism can be made of the response by the St John Ambulance Brigade, by SYMAS, or by the Fire Brigade on 15th April.
However, a large number of people, including ambulance officers would say that Taylor was too generous in his comments regarding South Yorkshire Ambulance Service.
A close analysis of Taylor reveals contradictions in his reasoning. On the one hand he exonerates SYMAS yet on the other hand he makes recommendations regarding co-ordination of emergency services. People have argued that there was a distinct lack of co-ordination by the Ambulance Service, that there was a lack of triage and a marked delay in sending for the Major Accident Vehicle.
The use of the gymnasium as a temporary mortuary, much criticised by families, was largely ignored by Taylor.
As previously stated the Final Report of Taylor place an emphasis on Football Stadia, it was:
...directed to making final and long-term recommendations about crowd control and safety at sports grounds...
Major criticisms to levelled at the Taylor Report:
1. The fact that it was split into 'Interim' and 'Final' has led to a situation where the Final Report is seen as just that Taylor's final word on the subject of Hillsborough when in fact it about all seater stadia. Ask for the Taylor Report in any library and you are likely to be handed the Final Report. In effect this lessens the impact of the criticism of the police made in the Interim Report as this first report becomes lost over time.
2. The second major criticism of the Taylor Inquiry is that the evidence was not taken under oath. The long-term impact of this cannot be emphasised enough. It means that in any subsequent court proceedings where people have brought Taylor into the equation, the person presiding has diminished the evidence by stating that it was not sworn evidence. The inquests are probably the clearest example of this. So when Duckenfield admitted at the Inquiry that he had lied when he said that fans forced the gate open that statement has little or no validity as it was not said under oath.
In concluding many people feel that Taylor was well received in the first instance ( i.e. the Interim Report) because there seemed to be a real acknowledgement of the breakdown of police control. Perhaps it was politically expedient in the early days after the disaster when feelings were running so high to appear to be giving the people what they wanted. However, it clearly ended there. The Final Report was a shift away from away from the cause of the disaster and ever since families have been trying to regain the ground lost between the Interim Report and the present day.