Commissioner feared nobody would want top South Yorkshire Police job

Dr Alan Billings
Dr Alan Billings

The man tasked with finding someone to lead South Yorkshire Police said he feared nobody would want the job.

Dr Alan Billings admitted his fears as interim Chief Constable Stephen Watson took on the role this week.

He will be officially appointed in November when Chief Constable David Crompton, currently suspended, retires.

Mr Crompton was suspended over his handling of the new inquests into the deaths of 96 football fans in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.

He stands accused of going back on an apology the force issued in 2012, when lawyers acting on behalf of South Yorkshire Police during the new inquests repeated discredited slurs on fans in a bid to divert blame from the police.

Commissioner Billings, who oversees the way South Yorkshire Police is run, said there were three candidates for the top job but he had been worried that nobody would want it.

He said: "When we advertised for the post I wasn't quite sure whether we'd get any applicants at all for the job.

"There have been some police forces up and down the country that have really struggled to find people. In the event, we had three deputy chief constables apply for the job - all really good, all, I'm quite sure, will be chief constables in time.

"Steve had real qualities I thought we needed in South Yorkshire.

"I think he understood our position. I think he understood some of these big issues that we have from the past that have to be dealt with. We mustn't go into denial, we must learn proper lessons and go forward appropriately.

"And I think he also understood the fragile nature of the situation here in South Yorkshire just at this moment in time."

As well as ongoing investigations into police actions relating to the Hillsborough disaster, there are also calls for an inquiry into the 'Battle of Orgreave' during the 1884 Miners's Strike, where thousands of police officers and pickets clashed at the Orgreave coking plant.

South Yorkshire Police is also still dealing with the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham, where 1,400 children were abused by men of largely Pakistani heritage over 16 years while the force failed to act.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating the actions of officers involved.

The force is currently funding a £10 million-a-year National Crime Agency investigation into historic cases of child sexual exploitation.

It is also facing budgetary pressures, with the Government having slashed its funding.