The amount of public money spent on legal costs run up by former senior police officers involved in fresh inquiries over the Hillsborough disaster has increased by more than £1m in just a month.
New figures show £1,041,717.62 was provided from the public purse in February to pay for lawyers representing eight officers who are taking part in new inquests for the 96 Liverpool fans who died after being crushed at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium.
The running total is now more than £2.6m and has already been accumulated prior to the inquests which are due to start in Warrington next week.
It has previously been revealed that South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Shaun Wright 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 officially designated as ‘interested persons’ at the inquests.
The financial impact of that decision has prompted fears money could be diverted away from day-to-day policing to pay the former officers’ legal bills. Costs are likely to continue to escalate with the inquests set to run at least until the end of the year.
Mr Wright declined to comment on the costs. The PCC formally applied to the Home Office for Special Grant funding to help pay the costs in November but has yet to receive a response.
A Home Office spokeswoman would only say a decision would be made “in due course”.
The latest spending figures show a further £772,353.61 has gone from the PCC’s coffers 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. Earlier this month it was revealed the firm had already previously received £1,578,779.23.
The new figures also show the first invoices sent in by Burton Copeland solicitors have also now been paid. In February, the PCC paid £269,364.01 to the firm, which is representing former deputy chief constable Peter Hayes and former assistant chief constables Stuart Anderson and Walter Jackson.
There are also two criminal inquiries into the events surrounding the tragedy itself 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 has previously 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 PCC from the 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.
PCCs 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 judgement reasonably”.