Legal bill to support eight Hillsborough officers reaches £14m - with more to come

Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield
Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield

Taxpayers have paid £14 million to provide legal support to eight former South Yorkshire Police officers involved in the Hillsborough disaster inquests – with millions more still to come.

Under a deal agreed by ex-police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright, the force is providing financial support to former officers deemed to be ‘interested parties’.

The Hillsborough disaster unfolds

The Hillsborough disaster unfolds

Receiving the help are former chief superintendent David Duckenfield, former superintendents Roger Greenwood and Roger Marshall, retired chief superintendents Terry Wain and Donald Denton, former deputy chief constable Peter Hayes and retired assistant chief constables Stuart Anderson and Walter Jackson.

Negotiations are currently taking place between the Home Office and South Yorkshire Police over what proportion of the bill they will each cover.

New commissioner Dr Alan Billings said: “My office is working hard to establish a way forward that will relieve the burden on the public of South Yorkshire.”

The new inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground on April 15, 1989, were ordered after the original verdicts were quashed in the High Court in December 2012.

Former South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright

Former South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright

A finance report to South Yorkshire’s police and crime panel said approximately £14m has been spent on supporting the men since the inquest process started in March 2014.

It has warned there is ‘potential for further significant costs particularly as the inquests could run until the summer of 2016’.

A further £1m has been spent on providing legal support to South Yorkshire Police chief constable David Crompton, who is also classified as an interested party in the proceedings.

Earlier this year, the Home Office agreed to provide £10.7m to South Yorkshire Police to cover some of the costs.

Dr Billings said prior to the announcement he feared the legal costs of the inquest process could ‘bankrupt’ South Yorkshire Police.

Now Allan Rainford, chief finance and commissioning officer for Dr Billings’s office, has warned the force may not be able to afford the further costs if the Home Office do not pay all of them.

He said: “The assumption relating to these potential costs has been that they will be offset by a special grant from the Home Office and that there will not be an impact on the net revenue budget for 2015/16.

“However although the Home Secretary has set out the principles on which funding will be provided, the level of funding is subject to further discussions with the Home Office and has not yet been finalised.

“There remains a risk that the level of special grant may fall well below the level of expenditure incurred. The available reserves may not be sufficient to meet this cost.”

Mr Rainford said the force currently only has around £5m of usable reserves left to it - money that it needs to keep and cannot be spent on further Hillsborough costs.

It comes as the force makes £17.4m savings this year – partly as a result of a £9.6m cut in Government funding.

The force is also facing a potential £15m bill in the next three years for the costs of the National Crime Agency’s investigation into historic child sexual exploitation cases in Rotherham.

Dr Billings said today: “We have a legal obligation to support both the current Chief Constable, and former officers who have been granted ‘interested person’ status and called to give evidence at the inquests.

“The Home Secretary announced in March that she would provide a special grant of £10.7m towards the costs we have incurred up to 31 March 2015. We have previously estimated this to be at least £6m short and we are still in discussions with the Home Office about the amount of grant we are due.

“Further special grant applications will be submitted for the costs we incur in 2015/16.

“Our costs to date have been met out of existing budgets and reserves, with the expectation that a special grant would provide full reimbursement in time. We do not know what the total cost of the inquests will be so cannot comment on the end financial position.”