South Yorkshire Police is preparing to find an initial £14m for future compensation payouts to victims of the Hillsborough disaster and the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal – but the final bill may end up being much higher.
A new financial report by the force shows it is setting aside £2.4m each for Hillsborough and CSE-related civil claims this year. On top of that £4.8m figure, The Yorkshire Post can also reveal it is due to apply for a Home Office grant of up to £9m to help cover the costs in 2017/18.
No claims have been settled yet in relation to either scandal and it is likely more money may be required to be set aside in further financial years.
Hundreds of people affected by the Hillsborough disaster are currently taking legal action against South Yorkshire Police, while at least 70 women who were victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham are also suing the force and Rotherham Council in separate claims.
To apply for the Home Office grant, the force has to cover the costs of up to one per cent of its annual budget – which is £245m in 2016/17 and has led to the £2.4m figure being arrived at for each issue. As part of attempts to secure the grant, the police element of council tax in South Yorkshire is being raised by its maximum possible amount next month.
A separate report said that if the budget was not raised by the highest level available – 3.26 per cent – “the Home Office may not look favourably on any application for additional funding”. Last month, Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings confirmed the council tax precept for the police service would be rising by 3.26 per cent in 2017/18.
A budget report said: “The commissioner will be making applications to the Home Office for special grant funding in 2017/18 to meet the cost of legacy issues, these could potentially amount to approximately £9m. However, if the commissioner does not increase council tax by the maximum available to South Yorkshire, the Home Office may not look favourably on any application for additional funding.”
In November, lawyers representing 465 people bringing legal action over an alleged police ‘cover-up’ following the Hillsborough disaster were granted a group litigation order, meaning their claims can be handled collectively.
The case is expected to return to court this autumn.
Lawyers representing the families told the High Court that their case was senior South Yorkshire Police officers “constructed and propagated a false narrative intended to deflect blame for the disaster away” from the force and on to Liverpool supporters. It followed an inquests jury finding 96 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed in the 1989 disaster.
In January, evidence relating to 23 suspects was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration of potential criminal charges. Eight of the suspects are connected to the alleged cover-up involving South Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police, which was in charge of an initial investigation into the causes of the 1989 disaster.
It was revealed this month that 91 former and current South Yorkshire officers are part of an IPCC inquiry into the Rotherham scandal, where at least 1,400 children were victims of sexual exploitation over a 16-year period. The IPCC’s Rotherham probe is the second largest it has undertaken – behind only its inquiry into the same force’s actions at Hillsborough.