People of Sheffield ‘must not pay price for police failures at Hillsborough’

Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough Stadium. Picture Scott Merrylees
Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough Stadium. Picture Scott Merrylees
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The people of Sheffield must not pay for the historic failings of police over Hillsborough – as it emerged South Yorkshire Police is being sued for millions of pounds by the families of those who died.

Local politicians have urged the Home Office to step in to help cover the costs of potential compensation claims to ensure that already-stretched frontline policing is protected from further cuts.

MP Clive Betts said: “Whatever happens, the public of South Yorkshire shouldn’t have to pay for the mistakes of the police in 1989.”

Both Mr Betts and fellow Sheffield MP Louise Haigh said special Government funding should be granted in a similar manner to the Home Office grants that helped the force cover the legal costs of former officers during the two-year inquests.

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett has also said South Yorkshire should not be penalised by the costs of further investigations into the disaster, with the force and some of its former high-ranking officers currently under criminal investigation.

Lord Blunkett said: “In dealing with the immediate future, it will surely be crucial that the people of South Yorkshire, many of whom played a signal part on that day in taking people into their homes, should not now pay the penalty of costs arising out of further investigational work on top of the costs that have been incurred.”

Mr Betts said the extra Government funding secured by police commissioner Alan Billings to cover the legal costs of the inquest should also be made available in relation to the compensation claims.

And Miss Haigh said: “Obviously South Yorkshire Police is under incredible funding restrictions already.

“They have had a statutory obligation to fund the defence of police officers, serving and retired. But they coped through special grants from the Home Office and I would hope the Home Secretary could step in to help again.”

They were speaking after it emerged almost 400 people are bringing a class action against South Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police – who carried out the first investigation into what happened – over the events of Hillsborough.

A total of 386 people are suing the forces for damages, with those making claims including relatives of the 96 victims and survivors from the day.

The police forces are accused of a ‘systematic cover-up’.

The legal action is being led by London firm Saunders Law and can now be reported following the conclusion of the two-year inquest process, which found the Liverpool supporters were unlawfully killed.

A spokesman for Saunders Law said: “The stark truth about how the 96 died has at last been officially recognised and the families’ long campaign is vindicated. After truth, the families now seek justice, and look to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Operation Resolve to work with the Crown Prosecution Service in bringing merited criminal charges relating to the unlawful killings.

“In addition to the police wrongdoing that caused the deaths, there is evidence of the systematic cover-up intended to transfer the blame for what happened from South Yorkshire Police to the innocent, by spreading lies, doctoring evidence, pressurising witnesses and suppressing the truth.

“The evidence points to abuse on an industrial scale by both South Yorkshire and West Midlands Police, beyond any ‘one bad apple’ analysis. In addition to actions by individuals, the evidence suggests institutional misfeasance by these bodies directed against our clients and the fans generally.

“Our clients believe that justice will only be established through accountability. Accordingly we issued High Court Claims for Misfeasance in Public Office against South Yorkshire and West Midlands Police in 2015 on behalf of several hundred of those affected.”