Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Hillsborough (1996)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Young Liverpool fans Adam Spearritt (age 14), sisters Sarah and Vicki Hicks (19 and 14), and Ian Glover (20) separately prepare to attend their team's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest, to be played at Sheffield Wednesday's ground, Hillsborough. These youths will be among the 96 people to die in the events that follow.

At Hillsborough, police officers are briefed on safety by Chief Superintendent Duckenfield, who warns about fans arriving drunk or without tickets. Using surveillance equipment, a policeman zooms in on one man in the ground, and rewinds the footage, demonstrating that the video equipment and cameras work.

The youths arrive with their families at Hillsborough, including Sarah and Vicki, with their mother Jenni and father Trevor. As thousands of fans gather outside the ground, the police discuss - but dismiss - the common response of separating fans into lanes. Duckenfield is warned that someone may be killed if the gate is not opened and, commenting that he has no option in that case, he opens the gate. When Trevor Hicks, at this stage solidly pro-police, warns a policeman that the area is overcrowded, he is sworn at. To-camera, Eddie Spearritt tells us that lives could still have been saved if fans had been dispersed into less populated pens. However, they are herded into two already full pens, surrounded by high metal fences, resulting in a fatal crush.

As the disaster unfolds, fans attempt to climb over the fences. Policemen sent to deal with an apparent hooligan pitch invasion find the reality, and tend to the casualties. Duckenfield tells the FA's Secretary that the events were caused by fans forcing their way in. Ambulances are prevented from entering the ground by policemen who think hooligans are fighting inside. One ambulance slips through, and takes Trevor and the injured Vicki.

This sole ambulance is seen on genuine television footage on the BBC's live sports programme Grandstand, seen by John Glover. In the chaos of a hospital swamped with victims and distraught relatives, Trevor is told that Vicki is dead, and, when called to identify a body which may be Sarah's, is shown Vicki's body again. To-camera, Trevor reports an ambulanceman's recollection that preventable deaths were caused by lack of medical equipment and the failure to let ambulances onto the pitch.

There follows a police cover-up. Traumatised officers are warned to not put anything in their notebooks, and although some officers ignore this, one later changes his statement during a court case after a call from a pathologist involved in the case. Relatives who have just identified bodies are asked whether their loved ones had been drinking or had arrived without tickets. This becomes the constantly repeated defence by police, despite being dismissed by the official Taylor inquiry, which squarely blames police failure. As The Sun newspaper prints lies - which are seen to come from senior police briefings - about Liverpool fans stealing from and urinating on the dead the relatives are faced with not only burying their loved ones but also having to defend their reputations.

The families try legal action to make South Yorkshire police accountable for their negligence, but are disappointed because of legal points, such as the dismissal of deaths after 3.15pm after the disputed evidence of a pathologist, the absence of police video evidence, and the swaying of juries by repeated allegations about the dead. Some question Trevor Hicks's call for low-key dignified behaviour; Eddie Spearritt calls for a more aggressive pursuit of manslaughter charges. Derisory compensation adds insult to injury. Suffering grief and stress, Trevor and Jenni grow apart, and Jenni moves to Liverpool to be closer to her dead daughters. After a traumatic hearing ends in a verdict of accidental death, the families react angrily, some confronting the jury. The names of the dead are read out. Crying and in a state of shock, cab driver Eddie Spearritt drives down a tunnel, bringing back memories of the Hillsborough tunnel he walked along with his son.