MORE than £1.5m in public money has been spent on legal costs run up by former senior police officers involved in fresh inquiries over the Hillsborough disaster, The Yorkshire Post can reveal today.
The huge bill has already been accumulated prior to fresh inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans due to begin at the end of the month. It raises the prospect of millions more provided from the public purse as hearings and connected criminal inquiries are set to run into next year.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Shaun Wright has agreed to requests to fund legal costs from eight former officers, including ex-chief supt David Duckenfield and ex-chief supt Terry Wain, who the coroner Lord Justice Goldring has designated as ‘interested persons’ at the inquests.
The eight are being formally represented at the hearings which are due to start in Warrington on March 31.
There are also two criminal inquiries into the events surrounding the tragedy at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium in 1989 and into allegations surrounding police conduct in the aftermath which are being run in tandem with the inquests to avoid unnecessary duplication and delay. As a consequence, officer legal costs relating to the criminal inquiries, where they crossover with the inquest inquiry, are also being funded.
However Mr Wright’s office said the funding approval is primarily focused on the inquests and does not extend to legal costs which could result if any of the officers are prosecuted. The approval followed applications to the South Yorkshire PCC from the eight officers and a recommendation from South Yorkshire chief constable David Crompton.
Fresh applications for financial support would have to be made should there be any prosecutions. It has previously been revealed that Mr Wright has asked the Home Office for extra funding to cope with all Hillsborough-related costs but it wasn’t apparent much of the burden will be paying legal bills of former officers.
Following a freedom of information request to the PCC, it has emerged that £1,578,779.23 has so far been paid to law firm Lewis Hymanson Small who are representing former chief supts David Duckenfield, Roger Greenwood, Terry Wain and Donald Denton plus former supt Roger Marshall. A first payment to Burton Copeland solicitors, who are representing former deputy chief constable Peter Hayes and former assistant chief constables Stuart Anderson and Walter Jackson, has only recently been made and is due to be disclosed shortly.
Costs for South Yorkshire Police, also represented at the inquests, currently stand at £225,320.
Police and Crime Commissioners have the discretion to fund costs for serving or former officers involved in legal proceedings. Official Home Office guidance states there is a presumption requests for legal costs will be met favourably but that each case should be judged on its own merits including a consideration of whether officers “acted in good faith and have exercised their judgment reasonably”.
A South Yorkshire PCC spokesman said: “The Commissioner has only agreed to litigation support and legal representation relating to the Coronial inquests.
“The Coronial Inquiry and two investigations are taking place simultaneously, and where the Coroner has directed work which sometimes serves a dual purpose, that has been supported by the Commissioner.”