* “Kelly” Davies still sees the image of a young boy dying right next to
him on the Hillsborough terraces.
* The 96 people who died are never forgotten.
POSSIBLY the most iconic picture of the Hillsborough disaster shows an prone figure being carried away from the killing zone of the terraces by a group of Liverpool fans using a torn-down advertising hoarding as a makeshift stretcher.
That man is John Kelvin Davies - known to everyone simply as “Kelly” – who has worked at Dobson & Crowther in Llangollen for the past 40 years.
But although that dramatic scene which has been shown across the world so many times perfectly sums up the sheer horror of that day in April 1989, it is not the image that has lived with him across almost a quarter of a century.
Instead, the picture which still comes back to haunt Kelly in his nightmares is that of the young lad he saw die right next to him as he himself fought for breath in the appalling human crush of the Leppings Lane terraces that sunny spring afternoon.
The afternoon that saw the deaths of 96 match-goers who had turned up to watch the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
And recent news that West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettison, one of the senior police officers closely associated with Hillsborough and its aftermath, had announced his retirement brought the memories tumbling uncomfortably back for Kelly, now a thoughtful 56 year old still dedicated to the cause of securing final justice for the ones who never made it home from the Sheffield Wednesday ground.
Although Kelly, who lives in Rhosymedre and is a machine operator at the envelope factory, rarely now speaks of his traumatic experience, he agreed to relive his own close brush with death so that people will perhaps have a better understanding of what happened.
As a lifelong home and away Liverpool fan, Kelly, then 33 and married with a four-year-old son, just had to be at the match that day.
As usual when going to his beloved team’s away games, he had arranged to travel with a group of nine fellow Liverpool devotees from Oswestry – the same lads he still goes to matches with to this day.
They headed across the Pennines in a minibus and arrived in Sheffield at about 11.30am, a little early because they had arranged to meet some fellow Liverpool fans from Newcastle in one of the city’s pubs for a quick drink before kick-off at 3pm.
But the Oswestry crowd soon discovered this wasn’t going to be possible because the local police had requested all the pubs near to the ground to close in a bid to prevent any pre-match trouble.
According to Kelly, this helps illustrate how far from the truth were later claims that the Liverpool fans were drunk before they got into the ground and therefore themselves brought about what happened to them.
He said: “We’d had a couple of cans on the bus coming over but that’s all. There was no way we were drunk and the same goes for all the Liverpool fans I saw before the match.”
Kelly recalled how, unable to get into any pub, he and his mates headed into the ground at about 2pm.“Of course, there were hundreds going in but, at that stage, no crush,” he said.
“As season ticket holders the lads from Oswestry and I got our tickets for the semi-final well before the match.
“I wasn’t supposed to be in the Leppings Lane end at all because I had a ticket for the stand but one of the lads said on the bus coming over he had been to Hillsborough before and was fed up of going in Leppings Lane and asked if anyone wanted to swap with him.
“I said I didn’t mind and we swapped tickets – but for that I wouldn’t have been in that end at all.
“Myself and a close friend of mine from Oswestry, John Bailey, went through the turnstiles and all we could see in front was a big tunnel into the ground.
“We walked along it and turned right into Pen 2 – the one where most of the deaths occurred.
“We took our places on the terraces and then, at about 2.30pm, people really started to pour in and it began to get a bit scary – but not too scary because most of us we were used to being packed in at matches.
“But as more and more came in it did get scary.
“I remember the point when it really came home to me that something was badly wrong was when I couldn’t get my hand down into my pocket for a fag because of all the bodies pressing in on me.”
For Kelly and thousands of others in the jam-packed pen the living nightmare of Hillsborough was now beginning.
He went on: “By then people were screaming and everything.
“We looked over and saw the pen next to ours was virtually empty and some people began to shout out to the police or ground stewards to let us into that one, but we were totally ignored.
“Things then got worse. One minute I was standing with my mate John three quarters of the way up the terraces and the next thing I knew I was on my own and being pushed right up against the fence at the bottom.
“I was stuck there for what seemed like an eternity with the pressure building up on me all the time.
“Most of us couldn’t climb over the fence onto the pitch because it was sort of angled back towards us at the top which meant we couldn’t get over it.
“Thankfully, someone must have seen what was happening and decided to open a small gate leading onto the pitch.
“I’m told by someone who saw it that it was like the cork coming out of a champagne bottle as people just burst out onto the pitch.
“John must have got out that way but I wasn’t close enough to the gate to get through – I was still pinned up against the fence.
“The ones lucky enough to get out were walking over dead bodies at that stage.
“At this point I fell over and what seemed like thousands of people fell on top of me.”
It was then Kelly saw the sight which has lived with him for over two decades.
He recalled: “Down on the ground I remember there was a young lad lying next to me – he was crying and calling for his mum.
“Strangely, although I can still clearly see his face, whenever I have looked at pictures of the 96 people who died I have never been able to recognise him as one of them.
“He died right next to me. I know he died because I saw his lips turn blue.”
Fate then took a hand as Kelly’s mate John, who had been frantically searching for him, found him on the body-strewn terrace.
Kelly was by now too dazed to clearly remember any of what happened next but it was then that a group of Liverpool fans arrived with the advertising hoarding ripped from the side of the pitch.
They placed Kelly on it and carried him out of the hell of the pen to a safe area.
A fireman gave him oxygen and a young female doctor inserted a drip into his arm, which John held aloft to allow the fluid to seep into him.
When Kelly eventually came around he found himself lying in the club gym next to a number of other casualties – some of them dead.
Police officers then helped John to get his mate into an ambulance which took him to the Northern General Hospital where he began receiving treatment for three broken ribs, a punctured lung, a ruptured ligament in his shoulder and extensive bruising.
After 24 hours he felt strong enough to discharge himself and was driven all the way home from Sheffield by a volunteer driver whose name he never knew.
Back in Rhosymedre his wife Barbara and the rest of his family had been desperately worried about him.
Kelly remembers: “She worked in what was then the Kwiksave store in Cefn Mawr and one of the managers, who had heard it on the radio and knew I was there, told her what was happening at Hillsborough.
“In those days nobody like us had a mobile phone so she just had to wait for news.
“It wasn’t until later that night that a priest who had come into the hospital got word to her that I was alive.
“When the Sunday paper came out the next morning it had that picture of someone being taken away on an advertising hoarding.
“My brother-in-law recognised it as me but deliberately kept it away from Barbara because he didn’t want to worry her.
“He then threw the paper away, so I’ve been trying to get a copy of that picture ever since but never managed it.”
Over in Sheffield that Sunday morning Kelly and fellow survivors had some VIP visitors.
Prince Charles came round the ward followed by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Home Secretary Douglas Hurd.
Mrs Thatcher didn’t get a very warm reception from some of the injured fans, Kelly recalled.
It was other reports in the press that enraged Kelly and the rest of the survivors.
He said: “I know there were stories in the Sun about Liverpool fans robbing the dead but that’s a load of rubbish.
“I saw nothing like that and everyone I dealt with or dealt with me that day, from other fans to the people of Sheffield, were absolute stars.”
This was contrary to his experience a couple of weeks after the disaster when two officers from West Midlands Police visited his home to take a statement from him about his recollections of the day.
Kelly said: “They didn’t even ask me how I was. All they were interested in was how much I had drunk before the match and if I was drunk.
“In now comes out through the Hillsborough Independent Panel that some of these statements were changed by the police. I was also told by my solicitor some time ago that mine might have been one of the ones changed but I can’t be sure of this.
“Although I got some compensation for what happened to me that day it was not about money and I have never been called to any sort of inquiry or inquest to give my version of things. That is why I am speaking about it now.
“I was off work for six months after it happened and was seeing a psychiatrist for two and a half years because I couldn’t sleep. I was on pain-killers and couldn’t go out.
“I was crying all the time and kept seeing the face of that young lad who died beside me.
“I have been a supporter of the Hillsborough justice campaign since the very first day, still wear a yellow wristband which just says ‘96’ on it and I always have a Hillsborough badge on my coat.”
Kelly went on: “Those of us who were there and survived always knew, like the independent panel reported, that a lot of it was down to bad policing.
“Hundreds of Liverpool fans flooded into the ground when what was usually an exit gate was opened by the police.
“I definitely want to see the inquest into the disaster re-opened. This time there should be a verdict of corporate manslaughter rather than accidental death.
“It was also said at the original inquest that all those who were going to die were dead by 3.15pm but I know that is not true.
“Like many others, I believe there was a cover-up about what exactly happened that day and it is about time after 23 years the record was put right.
“ I know how lucky I was that day and I suppose I have felt guilt ever since about the fact I survived when so many didn’t.”