Hillsborough testaments: The ambulance man

The only professional ambulance attendant to reach the Leppings Lane, Tony left the ambulance service in 1995 now lives on the Isle of Bute.

We were at the Northern General when we got a 3-9 call to an incident. They told us there was a fatality, but when we got to the ground there were ambulances from everywhere, even Derbyshire. As we pulled up a policeman came to my window and said: "You can't go on the pitch, they're still fighting." A senior ambulance officer came to the door, and it was him who put the horns on. We said: "The policeman says they're fighting - we can't go on." And he said: "I don't give a fuck who's told you you can't go on. You get on that pitch and you don't stop until you get to the end."

As we went along, the police were starting to form a wall across the pitch. We went through them and then saw people running towards us. As we got to the goal there was an absolute sea of people. I'll never forget the sound ... it was like a large swimming pool; there was screaming and shouting, it was deafening. People were banging on the side of the ambulance, shouting "Help!" and "Over here!" I didn't have a clue what was going on. We'd been told there was one fatality, that was it. We had these walkie-talkie radios and we tried to see if there was anyone I could report to, but the radios were useless. I was being pulled in different directions, people were shouting for oxygen, all sorts of demands. And I thought: "I can't help everybody." I was looking back up the pitch for other ambulances, but nobody was coming.

There were two girls on the grass, getting CPR. I decided to take one into the ambulance, but when I got back there were three bodies on board: one on the stretcher, and two piled on top of each other on the floor. There was a woman got into the vehicle doing mouth-to-mouth on a guy in the bulkhead. There was a young girl's body with a guy bent over her trying CPR, but he was blowing vomit into her chest. I got the girl on the stretcher and then I looked down ... and it wasn't the girl I'd wanted to take. This is the problem I've lived with ever since.

I asked again to be put in touch with ambulance control, but the radio wasn't working. I went to get my oxygen mask and bag, but they were gone. I looked up the pitch again and no one was coming. And I said to the driver: "We're gonna have to fuck off here," and we asked a policeman to close the door.

We weren't doing any good. You're used to having one casualty in the back, but there were too many bodies to deal with. We just didn't do a very good job that day. We left people on that pitch who were being worked on, and there were no professionals there to help them.

A few years later we attended an accident on the A1M. There are people alive today because of the treatment we gave them; we were just so good, as a team. But we were never given the chance at Hillsborough. There were 44 ambulances waiting outside the stadium - that means 80-odd staff could have been inside the ground. But they weren't allowed in. There was no fighting! The survivors were deciding who was the priority, who we should deal with. The police weren't. We weren't. Can you imagine a rail accident where all the ambulances wait on the embankment while the survivors bring the casualties up? I took away the wrong people.

I was the only professional ambulance attendant to reach the Leppings Lane, but I was written out of the disaster. I was given a commendation (which I ripped up), and I represented the South Yorkshire ambulance service at the memorial service, but I wasn't called to the Taylor inquiry. I didn't exist. You look at the Taylor report - I didn't exist. When I was interviewed by the West Midlands police I questioned the whole thing: why was I put in that position, you know? They didn't want that aired in court.

I know I dealt with it wrong. I know that. But I should never have been put in that position.

The Taylor inquiry was told my ambulance never got on to the pitch: it would've contradicted evidence given in another case. But I was there, in the police CCTV videos. All these questions they would have had to ask me are key to the mismanagement of Hillsborough. If they had asked me, it would have been disastrous for the police and the ambulance services.

Afterwards I blamed myself so much. I still do. I still get angry with myself, for not stopping and taking a deep breath, for not changing the course of things. I couldn't deal with it afterwards. I ran marathons, triathlons. I took it out on my partner at the time. I went on holiday to Dallas in 1992 and I came back and I realised I wasn't in control. I split up with my partner. But who's to say I wouldn't have done that anyway?

In the summer of 1995 we got a call to a suicide in Rotherham. Nothing unusual in a suicide. But he had a T-shirt, jeans and trainers on. That's what almost everyone was wearing at Hillsborough, in that makeshift mortuary. I just went to pieces: I was hyperventilating, I could hear the screaming again. And I left, I went off sick that day, and I never returned to the ambulance service. By October I was living here, on Bute. My partner joined me and we've been here ever since. I needed to get away, and this felt right straightaway. It was the turning point. People here know about Hillsborough, but they are very good - no one talks about it.

I've had two children since we've been here, and I have two from my first marriage. For the first nine years I ran a bicycle repair shop, but I've been a community recycling project manager since 2004. We're a social enterprise; we employ people who've had difficulties. We've won awards, and people have come up from England to have a look at us. I'm very busy, and it's a very positive part of my life. It's very therapeutic here. Everything here is positive.


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