CRAIG HOPE: Shame on Sheffield Council for burying the news

CRAIG HOPE: Shame on Sheffield Council for burying the news that Hillsborough’s safety certificate is INVALID… much like the statement itself, Wednesday continue to miss the point entirely

  • Review undertaken following concerns raised by Newcastle fans in January
  • The fact Hillsborough’s safety certificate is invalid is a staggering development
  • A Sheffield Council statement, much like Sheffield Wednesday, missed the point 

In a 461-word statement from Sheffield City Council on Wednesday night – 48 hours after it was requested – there were only six words which mattered amid a stream of deflection and backtracking. ‘Sheffield Wednesday have challenged this decision’.

The League One club, it transpired, have refused to accept a formal request to reduce the capacity of Hillsborough’s Leppings Lane end by 1,000 spectators, made by the council’s Safety Advisory Group (SAG) on the grounds of supporter safety.

It was a staggering development and one the club justify by claiming they have not breached their safety certificate. As we revealed on Thursday, that certificate is no longer valid.

But what captured the scandal of the attempt to fool us all, was that the news was buried. It was not even in the main statement, but in the seventh of eight bullet-pointed ‘notes’.

The top note? That would be the clarification that Newcastle United’s request to obtain the findings of the SAG review was not made via the Freedom of Information Act, as the Premier League club stated when, on Monday, they disclosed key details which had not been made public until their intervention. 

Sheffield Wednesday are claiming they have not breached their ground safety certificate – but Sportsmail revealed on Thursday that that certificate is no longer valid

Newcastle fans complained of overcrowding in the Hillsborough away end back in January

Newcastle, whose supporters reported crushing during an FA Cup tie at Hillsborough in January, said they were motivated by ‘greater transparency around safety issues’.

So, why are the council and Sheffield Wednesday so hung up on the exact nature of Newcastle’s request for information? In their mind, if it were not an FOI request, it absolves them of deliberately withholding the fact that 15 recommendations were made to improve the safety of Leppings Lane and that a temporary reduction in capacity was agreed. 

Leading the way: How we covered this shameful story

‘All you had to do was ask’ is the innocent stance of club and council.

Except, Sportsmail had asked to see the safety review and we were ignored. Without Newcastle’s request – FOI or otherwise – we believe it would have remained unpublished.

Sticking to a theme, a social-media post from the Sheffield Star newspaper read: ‘Vitally – info sent NOT by force of FOI’. This, no doubt, following a briefing from Sheffield Wednesday. I know, because I had the same briefing. It is a nonsense, nothing more than an effort to distract from the real issues.

Rather, what is ‘vital’ are the 50 witness statements which detailed crushing, distressed children and parents, overcrowded access points and concourses and stewards and police unable to help alleviate a growing sense of panic among supporters. That is what is important – not the email address to which Newcastle channelled their demand for transparency.

Where are we if such details and the conclusions arising from them are not immediately shared with the public? We’re back in 1989, that’s where. Then, following the tragic events of the Hillsborough disaster, no organisation wanted to accept responsibility.

The thing is, this time, Sheffield Wednesday were not being accused of anything when, in the aftermath of the game on January 7, away supporters began to voice safety concerns. What aggravated the situation was the club refusing to acknowledge their testimony or return any calls on the subject. It is this which led Newcastle to take action.

The League One side have refused to accept a formal request to reduce the capacity of Hillsborough’s Leppings Lane end by 1,000 spectators, following those away fan complaints

Now, Sheffield Wednesday continue to insist that Leppings Lane is safe at a capacity of 4,700, just because the SAG review determined they were compliant with the safety certificate issued last summer. 

OK, but how can the club ignore the strength of the accounts from those who were stuck and scared inside the access tunnel? From those who asked strangers for help to get their children to safety?

No one ever said Sheffield Wednesday were to blame, but this is the defensive position they have chosen to adopt, and they cannot let go. There was a real sense of triumphalism at the club following the council statement this week – ‘told you, we’ve done nothing wrong, have we?’.

Much like the statement itself, the football club continues to miss the point entirely.

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