Sheffield Wednesday sought compensation for lost ticket revenue a month after Hillsborough: Nick Harris

Outrageous: How Sheffield Wednesday sought compensation for lost ticket revenue… just one month after Hillsborough

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UPDATED:

21:16 GMT, 22 September 2012

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Plea for help: Bert McGee's astonishing letter to the FA

A month after the Hillsborough
Disaster, which cost the lives of 96 Liverpool fans, the chairman of
Sheffield Wednesday approached the Football Association over a claim for
compensation to help cover the club’s losses resulting from the tragedy
— including reduced income from ticket sales because they had had to
close the Leppings Lane end of the ground.

The revelation that Wednesday chairman
Bert McGee wrote asking the FA for ‘help and advice’ over the claim
will add to mounting criticism of the club and English football’s
governing body for their roles in the disaster 23 years ago.

Wednesday were awarded the chance to
stage the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on
April 15, 1989 despite Hillsborough not having a valid safety
certificate required under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975.

McGee’s letter, dated May 15, 1989,
was sent to Graham Kelly, the then chief executive of the FA, and has
been made public for the first time among the huge archive of documents
published by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, whose report, published
11 days ago, revealed the extent of the police cover-up over the causes
of the disaster.

Liverpool, who have consistently
supported the campaign for the bereaved families to be told the truth
about the disaster, face a massive test when they face Manchester
United at Anfield. Fans of the arch-rivals have for years traded
offensive chants about Hillsborough and the Munich air crash, and both
clubs have appealed for restraint.

In his letter to the FA, McGee claimed
that Wednesday faced extra costs because they had been forced to repair
damage to a wall, barriers and seats because of the disaster, and had
incurred financial losses through the temporary closure of the Leppings
Lane enclosure, where the fatal crush happened.

Horror: Liverpool fans are pulled to safety in the Leppings Lane end

Horror: Liverpool fans are pulled to safety in the Leppings Lane end

McGee also complained that changes to
seating in Hillsborough’s North Stand resulting from the Leppings Lane
end closure had created a ‘sterile’ area between sets of fans, and he
claimed that Wednesday had incurred higher costs because of extra
policing since the disaster.

McGee, who died in 1995, aged 77,
wrote: ‘A semi-final usually results in the host club making some money
for the promotion of the stadium and/or the club. However, in this case
it is unfortunate that the disaster has cost the club dearly.

‘For instance, the Inquiry team told
us that one of our high walls … was damaged and was unsafe and needed
immediate buttress repairs; this work has already been done. Damage to
the barriers and seating/fixtures also occurred.

‘/09/22/article-0-152611D8000005DC-618_634x416.jpg” width=”634″ height=”416″ alt=”Aftermath: Wednesday chairman Bert McGee accompanied Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she visited Hillsborough on the day after the disaster” class=”blkBorder” />

Aftermath: Wednesday chairman Bert McGee accompanied Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she visited Hillsborough on the day after the disaster

And
McGee ended his letter: ‘I am not the kind of chairman who will latch on
to every opportunity to secure a monetary advantage from our industry
no matter how, but I do wonder whether or not in these tragic
circumstances the FA can help Sheffield Wednesday.’

Other
papers in the Hillsborough Independent Panel archive reveal that
Kelly’s response to McGee’s letter was to seek legal advice from lawyers
acting for the FA.

One
document, a lawyer’s note recorded on May 19 1989, states that Kelly
‘wanted to know whether he should consider the letter or whether we [the
lawyers] had any problems with the FA making any donations’.

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The
lawyer added: ‘I said I could not see any reason why, if it was
considered appropriate, some money ought to be paid but we would have to
look at the method of how it was done. I did not think the [Taylor]
Inquiry would be prejudiced by any payment to compensate for the loss of
revenue Wednesday suffered as a result of the semi-final being
cancelled. It was a matter for Graham [Kelly] whether he wanted to make
any payment.’

A subsequent note by the lawyer on the same day mentions Wednesday being asked to produce ‘an itemised bill of costs they had incurred’ and to state ‘whether they had any consequential loss insurance’.

Last week Kelly, who stood down as FA chief executive in 1998, referred questions regarding the McGee letter to the FA. They said they had disclosed all relevant documents to the Hillsborough Independent Panel and that the paperwork shows no record of a compensation payment being made to Wednesday.

The club’s role in the disaster has come under renewed scrutiny. Charles Falconer, the barrister who represents the Hillsborough Family Support Group, has asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate whether the club (whose current owners took over in November 2010), South Yorkshire Police, the local council and the FA should be charged with corporate manslaughter.

There had been dangerous crushes at the Leppings Lane end before 1989 and the flaws at the stadium were well known. Yet when police told McGee after an incident in 1981 that fans had been moved to avoid ‘a real chance of fatalities’, another document disclosed by the Independent Panel reveals that he had responded: ‘B******s — no one would have been killed.’ Wednesday’s reputation in the years following the disaster suffered as a result of the club’s apparent unwillingness to place a memorial to the 96 victims at Hillsborough, and it emerged from the Independent Panel’s inquiry that Sir Dave Richards, the current chairman of the Premier League who was chairman of Wednesday from March 1990 to February 2000, had turned down a monument on legal advice.

Only upon publication of the Independent Panel report did the Government, the FA, Sheffield Wednesday and the South Yorkshire Police offer their first full, public apologies for their various roles in the disaster and the subsequent cover-up of who was truly to blame.

Letter: McGee

Plea for help: Extracts from Bert McGee's astonishing letter to the FA

Plea for help: Extracts from Bert McGee's astonishing letter to the FA

This was despite Lord Taylor making it clear as early as August 1989 that errant policing, in a deficient venue, was the main cause.

The precise amount of Wednesday’s losses as a result of the disaster remains unconfirmed. As hosts, they were entitled to 10 per cent of the gross receipts from the day, which are believed to have been around 350,000, meaning Wednesday would have received about 35,000.

The club’s financial accounts for the year ending May 31, 1989, claim that ‘loss of income arising out of the Hillsborough tragedy’ was a factor in Wednesday making a loss of 53,862 that year. Yet no details are given of how the disaster cost Wednesday money.

The same accounts show Wednesday’s wage bill (mainly for players) rose by 321,000, year-on-year. In other words, without those wage rises, Wednesday would have made a profit of some 267,000 that year, not a loss.

The same financial accounts show Wednesday did not expect to lose any further money as a result of financial claims against them from victims of the tragedy or their families. A note in those accounts said: ‘It is not possible to assess the financial effect of the claims at this time. However, the directors consider, based on professional advice, that the company is unlikely to have any material contingent liabilities in this respect.’

Wednesday’s insurers, Sun Alliance, have been criticised for not releasing all their documents regarding the disaster to the Independent Panel.

But last week a spokeswoman for the company said they had ‘willingly co-operated with the Panel, disclosing all relevant materials. It is not our practice to release legally privileged materials.’