Alcock and Others v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Keith of Kinkel,Lord Ackner,Lord Oliver of Aylmerton,Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle,Lord Lowry
Judgment Date28 November 1991
Judgment citation (vLex)[1991] UKHL J1128-1
Date28 November 1991
CourtHouse of Lords
Copoc and Others (A.P.)
Wright (Sued as Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police)
Alcock (A.P.) and Others (A.P.)
Wright (Sued as Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police)
(Consolidated Appeals)

[1991] UKHL J1128-1

Lord Keith of Kinkel

Lord Ackner

Lord Oliver of Aylmerton

Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle

Lord Lowry

House of Lords

Lord Keith of Kinkel

My Lords,


The litigation with which these appeals are concerned arose out of the disaster at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, which occurred on 15 April 1989. On that day a football match was arranged to be played at the stadium between the Liverpool and the Nottingham Forest football clubs. It was a semi-final of the F.A. Cup. The South Yorkshire police force, which was responsible for crowd control at the match, allowed an excessively large number of intending spectators to enter the ground at the Lemmings Lane end, an area reserved for Liverpool supporters. They crammed into pens 3 and 4, below the West Stand, and in the resulting crush 95 people were killed and over 400 physically injured. Scenes from the ground were broadcast live on television from time to time during the course of the disaster, and recordings were broadcast later. The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire has admitted liability in negligence in respect of the deaths and physical injuries. Sixteen separate actions were brought against him by persons none of whom was present in the area where the disaster occurred, although four of them were elsewhere in the ground. All of them were connected in various ways with persons who were in that area, being related to such persons or, in one case, being a fiancée. In most cases the person with whom the plaintiff was concerned was killed, in other cases that person was injured, and in one case turned out to be uninjured. All the plaintiffs claim damages for nervous shock resulting in psychiatric illness which they allege was caused by the experiences inflicted on them by the disaster.


The actions came on for trial before Hidden J. on 19 June 1990, and he gave judgment on 31 June 1990. That judgment was concerned with the question whether the defendant owed a duty of care in relation to nervous shock to any, and if so to which, of the plaintiffs. The defendant admitted that if he owed such a duty to any plaintiff, and if that plaintiff could show causation, then the defendant was in breach of duty and liable in damages to that plaintiff. For purposes of his judgment Hidden J. assumed in the case of each plaintiff that causation was established, leaving that matter to be dealt with, if necessary, in further proceedings. In the result, he found in favour of ten out of the sixteen plaintiffs before him and against six of them. The defendant appealed to the Court of Appeal in the cases of nine out of the ten successful plaintiffs, and the six unsuccessful plaintiffs also appealed to that court. On 3 May 1991 the Court of Appeal (Parker, Stocker and Nolan L.JJ.) gave judgment allowing the defendant's appeals in the cases of the nine formerly successful plaintiffs and rejecting the appeals of the six unsuccessful ones. Ten only of these fifteen plaintiffs now appeal to your Lordships' House, with leave granted in the Court of Appeal.


The circumstances affecting each of the ten appellants were thus summarised in the judgment of Parker L.J. ( [1991] 3 All E.R. 38, 92-94):

"Brian Harrison was at the ground. He was in the West Stand. He knew both of his brothers would be in the pens behind the goal. He saw the horrifying scene as it developed and realised that people in the two pens had been either killed or injured. When, six minutes after the start, the match was abandoned he tried to find his brothers. He failed to do so. He stopped up all night waiting for news. At 6 a.m. he learnt that his family were setting off for Sheffield. At 11 a.m. he was informed by telephone that both his brothers were dead.

Mr. and Mrs. Copoc lost their son. They saw the scenes on live television. Mrs. Copoc was up all night. She was informed by police officers at 6 a.m. that her son was dead. Mr. Copoc went to Sheffield at 4 a.m. with his nephew. He was informed at 6.10 a.m. of his son's death and later identified the body.

Brenda Hennessey lost her brother. She watched television from about 3.30 p.m. and, although she then realised there had been deaths and injuries in the pens, she was not worried because she believed her brother to be in a stand seat. However, at about 5 p.m. she learnt from her brother's wife that he had a ticket in the Leppings Lane terrace. At 6 p.m. she learnt from members of the family who had gone to Sheffield that her brother was dead.

Denise Hough lost her brother. She was 11 years older than her brother and had fostered him for several years although he no longer lived with her. She knew he had a ticket at the Leppings Lane end and would be behind the goal. She was told by a friend that there was trouble at the game. She watched television. At 4.40 a.m. she was informed by her mother that her brother was dead. Two days later, on 17 April, she went with her mother to Sheffield and confirmed an earlier identification of the body. His face was bruised and swollen.

Stephen Jones lost his brother. He knew that his brother was at the match. He watched television and saw bodies and believed them to be dead. He did not know his brother was dead until 2.45 a.m. when, having gone to the temporary mortuary at Hillsborough, he found his parents there in tears.

Robert Alcock lost his brother-in-law. He was in the West Stand, with his nephew (the brother-in-law's son). He witnessed the scenes from the West Stand and was sickened by what he saw but was not then concerned for his brother-in-law whom he believed to be in the stand because, on the way to the match, he had swapped a terrace ticket which he held for a stand ticket. Tragically, however, the brother-in-law had, unknown to the plaintiff, returned to the terrace. After the match the plaintiff left the ground for a rendezvous with the brother-in-law, who did not arrive. He and his nephew became worried and searched without success. At about midnight they went to the mortuary, where the plaintiff identified the body, which was blue with bruising and the chest of which was red. The sight appalled him.

Catherine Jones lost a brother. She knew he was at the match and would normally be behind the goal. At 3.30 p.m. whilst shopping she heard that there was trouble at the match and at 4.30 p.m. that there were deaths. At 5.15 p.m. she went home and heard on the radio that the death toll was mounting. At 7 p.m. a friend telephoned from Sheffield to say that people at the hospital were describing someone who might be her brother. At 9 p.m. her parents set off for Sheffield. At 10 p.m. she watched recorded television in the hope of seeing her brother alive. She thought mistakenly, she saw him collapsed on the pitch. At 5 a.m. her father returned from Sheffield and told her that her brother was dead.

Joseph Kehoe lost a 14-year-old grandson, the son of his daughter and her divorced husband. Unknown to the grandfather the boy had gone to the match with his father. In the afternoon the plaintiff heard on the radio that there had been deaths at Hillsborough. He later saw scenes of the disaster on recorded television. He later still learnt that his grandson was at the match. He became worried. At 3 a.m. he was telephoned by another daughter to say that both the boy and his father were dead.

Alexandra Penk lost her fiancé, Carl Rimmer. They had known each other for four years and recently became engaged. They planned to marry in late 1989 or at the latest early in 1990. She knew he was at the match and would be on the Leppings Lane terraces. She saw television in her sister's house and knew instinctively that her fiancé was in trouble. She continued to watch in the hope of seeing him but did not do so. She was told at about 11 p.m. that he was dead."


The question of liability in negligence for what is commonly, if inaccurately, described as "nervous shock" has only twice been considered by this House, in Bourhill v. Young [1943] A.C. 92 and in McLoughlin v. O'Brian [1983] 1 A.C. 410. In the latter case the plaintiff, after learning of a motor accident involving her husband and three of her children about two hours after it had happened, went to the hospital where they had been taken. There she was told that one of the children had been killed, and saw her husband and the other two in a distressed condition and bearing on their persons the immediate effects of the accident. She claimed to have suffered psychiatric illness as a result of her experience, and at the trial of her action of damages against those responsible for the accident this was assumed to be the fact. This House, reversing the Court of Appeal, held that she was entitled to recover damages. The leading speech was delivered by Lord Wilberforce. Having set out, at pp. 418 and 419 the position so far reached in the decided cases on nervous shock, he expressed the opinion that foreseeability did not of itself and automatically give rise to a duty of care owned to a person or class of persons and that considerations of policy entered into the conclusion that such a duty existed. He then considered the arguments on policy which had led the Court of Appeal to reject the plaintiff's claim, and concluded, at p. 421, that they were not of great force. He continued, at pp. 421-423:

"But these discounts accepted there remains, in my opinion, just because 'shock' in its nature is capable of affecting so wide a range of people, a real need for the law to place some limitation upon the extent of admissible claims. It is necessary to consider three elements inherent in any claim: the class of persons whose claims...

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