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'It's a Hillsborough waiting to happen'

Filed: Wednesday, 14th December 2016
By: Staff Writer

A number of season ticket holders have expressed their grave concerns regarding the safety of the Olympic Stadium after they were locked in the arena during the recent clash with Arsenal.

One ST holder, writing on the SkyscraperCity forum under the pseudonym 'kllblq' revealed how he had tried to leave the stadium at the 80 minute mark - only to find all the doors were locked and stewards unable to open them.

"At 3- 0 down I decided that I wanted to leave", wrote the supporter. "To my horror, all the exits were locked. This was on 80 minutes.

"There was one girl on the door and she was powerless to do anything. Worryingly I could see more and more supporters coming down the stairs and joining the hoards of patrons wanting to leave and not being able to.

"At one point I thought I may need to go into the toilets to avoid what I thought was going to be an inevitable crush. The steward at this point look scared out of her wits. I tried to use another turnstile and it was also shut with ever more people swelling the crowd.

"The steward on that turnstile eventually opened what I assume was a disabled supporters' entrance; that is one manual door to let people out. Then instead of the doors being opened, stewards turned up ready for a fight. Astonishing!"

A potentially serious crush was narrowly avoided when other gates were eventually opened - but only after further confusion, as detailed by the supporter.

"Someone, somewhere was watching all this and thinking that the gesticulating to the steward to open the doors was a threat to her safety," he added. "There must have been a command to go sort it out as the heavies arrived in an attempt to misguidedly protect the steward.

"By this point the heavies were already pushing people around and the gate remained still locked for around another minute or so. Only then did the woman say people wanted to leave - and the doors miraculously opened, all at once, and everyone dispersed."

Following the above revelations, Peter Caton - a season ticket holder who was previously involved in the WHU's View? campaign - has written to West Ham's Operations Director, Ben Illingworth, to express his concerns.

"It is hard to believe that after Bradford and Hillsborough a Premier League football club can allow a situation where exit gates cannot be immediately opened," he wrote.

"A situation where a steward manning the gate apparently has no means of opening it herself, has no radio contact to get the door opened and the system seemingly relies on a computer to open the exits. I hope that you are aware of these problems and that action has been taken to resolve them."

However Peter Smith, the stadium's safety officer refuted claims that exit were left locked.

"In respect of the Arsenal egress, this particular departure was complicated by the scoring of a late goal which saw many of those who had decided to leave the stadium then attempt to return to the seating bowl whilst others were still attempting to leave, resulting in unusual crowd flows on the podium level," he replied.

"We are able to monitor all exits via the stadium CCTV and are acutely aware of the dynamics of departing crowds. There is a process in place to unlock to multiple exit doors at 80 minutes when egress gathers pace.

"After 75 minutes of Saturday’s match, our safety and security teams opened additional doors when it became clear that large sections of the home support were keen to leave."

Your views

"We are at the stage where these problems have to be reported to the licensing authority. They will have to investigate should enough complaints about the same thing come in. Having been a Deputy Safety Officer for a Championship club safety was paramount and groundstaff would spend hours rectifying problems. The fear was that the licensing authority could close an area of the ground until the necessary repairs were carried out. No one wants to see areas closed, but it is a possibility. Same with the gates - there must be a manual system to allow them to be opened by the steward. A total power failure (there must be back-up supplies) would leave the public having no safe egress from the stadium. Let's just hope no one is hurt - or worse, killed - because corners have been cut or safety has been ignored."
- Exiled in Cardiff

"It seems to me that (a) they're behaving unlawfully. You can't lock people in for no good reason. (b) they're probably breaching Health & Safety regs - for obvious reasons. (c) it's a Hillsborough waiting to happen. It just astonishes me that they can continue to get away with acting like this. The heavies in the high-vis hats broke several laws and regs. The ousting of 114 was almost certainly in breach of contract. Now this. And yet they just sail on doing stuff like this with no come back."
- GreenIron

"I've left on 88 minutes a couple of times and only one small gare was open. You think that late they'd all be open, who is in charge or do they make it up as they go along?"
- Pop Robson

"I too was caught up in the melee trying to exit the Trevor Brooking after the game and found the scenes quite disturbing. I saw a lot of frightened stewards backing away from an angry, ever-growing crowd trying to exit through locked doors and leaving a lone GIRL trying to placate the crowd (what heroes}. Unless the police get more involved with crowd safety it can only be a matter of time before there is a fatality."
- bac42

"After the Bradford fire, legislation was brought in to say exit gates could be closed but not locked. At Upton Park, stewards would unlock the gates prior to kick-off and the padlocks from all gates were returned to the control room. They were then checked that all locks were off. A system at worked very well. If they are not releasing the gates they could be in contravention of the safety at sports ground legislation."
- Exiledin cardiff

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