THE FALLOUT from the verdicts on the 1989 Hillsborough disaster appeared today to have cost South Yorkshire’s most senior police officer his job, after the county’s crime tsar demanded his immediate resignation.
David Crompton’s position as Chief Constable had appeared to be doomed since a scrutiny panel made up mostly of local councillors recommended he be removed because of his “catastrophic error of judgement” after the verdict in the new inquests into the disaster.
This morning, his boss - the county’s police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings - said Mr Crompton was being told to go because he showed “unacceptable insensitivity” to the Hillsborough victims.
Mr Crompton was suspended in April from his £162,000-a-year post following a statement he gave in the days after the conclusion of the inquests, in which he seemed to go back on an earlier apology issued in 2012 by seeking to focus on the behaviour of Liverpool supporters.
Dr Billings said he had decided to call for Mr Crompton to resign with immediate effect, though Mr Crompton later released a statement describing the decision as “fundamentally wrong” and vowing to challenge it in court.
Dr Billings said Mr Crompton had resorted to “self-justifying” claims and defended controversial questioning by the force’s legal teams at the inquest which questioned the behaviour of fans.
He said the officer had failed to understand the hurt and anger this caused among the families of those killed in the football tragedy.
The decision to remove Mr Crompton contradicted advice given to Dr Billings by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Tom Winsor, who called the punishment “conspicuously unfair, disproportionate and unreasonable”.
Sir Tom said the words, “other contributory factors”, alluded to failures among the ambulance crew and local authority at the disaster in April 1989, not the fans, who were “completely exonerated”.
However, Sir Tom was himself facing criticism, after two politicians rounded on him.
Former Home Secretary and long-time Sheffield MP Lord Blunkett said Sir Tom was unaware of the facts, and added: “ It completely throws into doubt the whole of his advocacy for Mr Crompton”.
Lord Blunkett went on: “It is clear that Sir Tom Winsor appears to be alone in his perspective on these matters. His views are simply not shared by the Police and Crime Panel, the Hillsborough families, or public representatives in South Yorkshire.”
Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts, who chairs the communities and local government select committee, also joined the criticism of Sir Tom, and called on the Home Secretary to investigate his actions.
Mr Betts said: “Sir Tom Winsor’s Inspectorate has simply failed to reveal the extent of poor performance which has been uncovered by the independent peer reviews commissioned by SYPCC Dr Alan Billings and the new acting chief constable.”
Dr Billings, who admitted that if he lost a judicial review he may have to consider resigning, said in a statement: “The Chief Constable apologised on behalf of the force. Those who heard the apology thought it was not only for what had happened in the past but also for questions that were asked by the Chief Constable’s legal team at the inquests which touched on fan behaviour and caused the families distress.
“However, the statement the following day sought to justify the questioning. It was heard as an attempt to shift blame to others and this undermined the integrity of the apology. It brought immediate criticism of the Chief Constable both locally and nationally.”
On April 26, the jury at the Hillsborough inquests returned verdicts of unlawful killing and found that the behaviour of football supporters did not cause or contribute to the dangerous situation at the ground.
The following day, Mr Crompton issued a statement which said the force “never sought, at any stage, to defend the failures of SYP or its officers”.
But he said: “Nevertheless, these failures had to be put into the context of other contributory factors. In other words, where do the failings of SYP stand in the overall picture?”
A scrutiny panel called the decision to publish this statement “a catastrophic error of judgment”.
Dr Billings said there had been an “erosion of trust and confidence” in Mr Crompton’s leadership “which would have continued and intensified as long as he remained in post”.
He said two other scandals currently engulfing South Yorkshire Police – the ongoing child abuse investigation in Rotherham and the prospect of an inquiry into its handling of the Orgreave picket during the miners’ strike in the 1980s – meant it was crucial that the community had confidence in the force. Dr Billings added: “The Chief Constable’s statement the day after the Hillsborough verdicts were announced has seriously set back that possibility and this affects many ex-mining communities across this county.”
Dr Billings has been backed by families of the Hillsborough disaster.
Dorothy Griffiths, whose brother, Vincent Fitzsimmons, died in the tragedy, told Today Mr Crompton is “unable to accept any degree of responsibility or criticism whatsoever”.
She said: “If you look back at the history of Hillsborough and what the families have all endured over the 27 years, it’s right that he should go.
“We are not looking to have somebody as a scapegoat - we are looking for justice, we are looking for honesty and openness and to get our trust back in the police.”
DAVID CROMPTON’S HILLSBOROUGH STATEMENT IN FULL
“In 2012, the chief constable made a full apology for the failures of South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and the force has stood by that ever since. In the aftermath of the verdicts, the chief constable apologised again and unequivocally accepted the jury’s conclusions.
“We have been asked about our conduct at the inquests. The coroner himself gave a clear ruling that specifically addresses the relationship between apologies and evidence at the Inquests. He ruled that to admit the previous 2012 apology by the chief constable into proceedings would be ‘wrong’ and ‘highly prejudicial’.
“He also ruled that the conduct of SYP during the inquests was not inconsistent with this earlier apology. The force has taken careful note of the coroner’s comments during the inquests and has sought to be open and transparent at all stages.
“It is important to remember that Inquests are not about guilt, liability or blame, but about establishing the facts. The intention throughout these proceedings has been to assist the jury understand the facts. We have never sought, at any stage, to defend the failures of SYP or its officers.
“Nevertheless, these failures had to be put into the context of other contributory factors. In other words, where do the failings of SYP stand in the overall picture?
“We are sorry if our approach has been perceived as at odds with our earlier apology, this was certainly not our intention.”