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Alcock & ors v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire [1992] AC 310 House of Lords

This case arose from the disaster that occurred at Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield in the FA cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989. South Yorkshire Police had been responsible for crowd control at the football match and had been negligent in directing an excessively large number of spectators to one end of the stadium which resulted in the fatal crush in which 95 people were killed and over 400 were physically injured. The scenes were broadcast live on television and were also repeated on news broadcasts. Sixteen claims were brought against the defendant for nervous shock resulting in psychiatric injury. At trial ten of the claims were successful. The defendant appealed against the findings in nine and the unsuccessful claimants appealed. The Court of Appeal found for the defendants in all of the claims. Ten appeals were made to the House of Lords. These included claims made by brothers, sisters, parents, a grand-parent and a fiancé. Two of the claimants had been at the ground but in a different area. Some had seen the events unfold on the television, some had heard about the events in other ways. Some had identified bodies at the makeshift mortuary.

Held:

The appeals were dismissed.

Lord Oliver set out the distinction between primary and secondary victims. A primary victim one involved mediately or immediately as a participant and a secondary victim one who is no more than a passive and unwilling witness of injury to others. The claimants were all classed as secondary victims since they were not in the physical zone of danger.

For secondary victims to succeed in a claim for psychiatric harm they must meet the following criteria:

1.   A close tie of love and affection to a primary victim

2.   Witness the event with their own unaided senses

3.   Proximity to the event or its immediate aftermath

4.   The psychiatric injury must be caused by a shocking event
 
 
 

Lord Ackner:

    "'Shock', in the context of this cause of action, involves the sudden appreciation by sight or sound of a horrifying event, which violently agitates the mind. It has yet to include psychiatric illness caused by the accumulation over a period of time of more gradual assaults on the nervous system."