John Whale suffered fatal head injuries when he fell down stairs as he left a Manchester derby in 2017
Many of Manchester United’s stewards do the job for the perks of a free programme and the chance to watch their team play, security experts have claimed.
On Wednesday, Sportsmail revealed that the Premier League giants were slammed by a coroner after the death of lifelong supporter John Whale, who suffered fatal head injuries when he fell down stairs as he left a Manchester derby in 2017.
At the inquest into the 80-year-old grandfather’s death, the actions of two stewards, who blocked his access to handrails as he tried to leave, were found to have directly contributed to his death. The coroner was so concerned by what she had heard that she filed a ‘Report to Prevent Future Deaths’ to the club, the local authority and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
She said that unless further action was taken ‘there is a risk further deaths will occur’.
It can also be disclosed that one of the stewards involved told the three-day hearing he had taken the job because he was a United supporter. Now a security expert has warned that many of the stewards brought in on match-days simply see it as an opportunity to watch the team play.
‘They get to watch football for free,’ he said. ‘If they don’t have to deal with anything, it doesn’t affect watching the football. They are not trained to a high level.’
Some of those who apply for the jobs also work nightclub doors and so have Security Industry Authority (SIA) licenses and a higher level of training. However, many receive only cursory training and are not licensed by the SIA and therefore cannot even search fans. Their training covers basics like first aid and how to direct supporters.
Some regard it as an unwritten rule that because the pay is so low — little more than the minimum wage — they should be allowed to watch the match.
United use an outside company, Controlled Solutions Group, to look after stewarding.
Many Manchester United stewards do the job so they can watch the game, security experts say
Whale fell down stairs in the Sir Alex Ferguson stand as he left a Manchester derby in 2017
They point out that the security elements of their staff are licensed by the SIA and say that both ‘security and part-time stewarding staff are trained and continually evaluated to ensure they meet or exceed all industry standards’.
The claims from the expert come after a fast-moving day of developments on which United finally revealed what safety improvements they have made in the wake of the tragedy.
Both the coroner, Alison Mutch OBE, and Trafford Council had written to United with a number of recommendations. United initially said they had made improvements but declined to disclose what they were. That led local MP Kate Green to say she would raise the matter in parliament should the club fail to make public what they had done.
However, at 6pm following a repeated request by the Daily Mail, United eventually forwarded a list of measures taken after the death of Mr Whale.
They say they have brought in ‘new configurations on the staffing and stewarding’ of exit areas. They say stewards are briefed extensively on new guidelines brought in by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority following Mr Whale’s death that call for exits to remain clear and add that they conduct briefings on the matter before ‘every single game’.
The concerned coroner was moved to write a 'Report to Prevent Future Deaths' to the club
United, who insist ‘safety is the number one priority’ and point out that Old Trafford complied with all safety regulations at the time of Mr Whale’s fall, were found by the coroner not to audit stewards and the club say they now carry out regular audits on the new procedures.
The club declined to say whether the two stewards involved in Mr Whale’s death had been sacked or whether United would be widening the exits in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand to meet current guidelines, although this is not a legal requirement.
The inquest jury recorded a verdict of accidental death but with three contributing factors, all of which concerned the actions of the two stewards who blocked his access to a handrail. One of them admitted they were watching the game instead of concentrating on the job at hand. Both were found to have a lack of awareness of their surroundings.
Earlier in the day, Ms Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, had called for transparency. ‘I am very concerned,’ she said. ‘I know there is a lot of work that they carry out which is aimed at preventing a terrorist attack and I appreciate that a lot of this cannot be put into the public domain. However, in this case, they need to tell us what they have done. What have they got to hide?
United have produced a list of measures taken to improve safety after the death of Mr Whale
‘I would like to know in terms of basic safety what has been done, what is in the pipeline and when can we expect it to be completed? Our sports grounds need to be as safe as they possibly can be and this is something I will consider raising in parliament.’
Trafford council declined to comment on what recommendations they made but it is understood they included a request for United to make all their stewards aware of the code of conduct and to ensure that in the event of an accident, stewards fill in a report form before they finish their shifts. In Mr Whale’s case, no report was filled out.
Meanwhile, it is understood that the Premier League and EFL are reviewing training packages for stewards amid widespread concerns raised by police and fans over performance levels.
The Manchester United Supporters Trust has expressed concerns that the club are being left behind by failing to invest in their stadium. A spokesman said: ‘We want so see the club investing for the future, off the pitch as well as on. Old Trafford should not be left behind.’