Taxpayers facing ambulance service legal bill for inquests

An ambulance on the pitch at Hillsborough
An ambulance on the pitch at Hillsborough
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AMBULANCE chiefs in Yorkshire have earmarked hundreds of thousands of pounds to cover legal costs of the Hillsborough disaster inquests.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service has hired a leading barrister for the inquests in Warrington where the actions of staff at the former South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service will come under scrutiny.

At the original inquests into the disaster at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground in which 96 people died, a cut-off time of 3.15pm on April 15, 1989 was controversially set amid claims no one trapped in the crush could have been saved after this time.

One of the main questions the coroner Lord Justice Goldring has set for inquest jurors to answer relates to the role of the ambulance service by examining its emergency response to the emerging disaster and considering if more could have been done for those who died.

Jurors have already been told that a request by police for a fleet of ambulances was initially refused by the service’s control room. It has also been revealed there were delays declaring a major incident.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service, the successor organisation for South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, has confirmed £750,000 had been set aside for the costs of the inquests which are due to last into next year.

The Yorkshire Post has already revealed the spiralling costs faced by South Yorkshire Police to pay for ongoing investigations into the disaster, triggering an appeal for further funding from the Home Office.

Now a former ambulance worker who was on duty that day has issued a public appeal to Home Secretary Theresa May for his legal costs to be funded.

More than 7,000 people last week signed a petition set up by Tony Edwards who was in an ambulances allowed onto the pitch at Hillsborough and is being called to give evidence to the inquests.

He is the only ambulance worker to be given Interested Person status and wants separate representation to that provided by the ambulance service.

He said: “South Yorkshire Police, Yorkshire Ambulance Service, Sheffield City Council and I have all been awarded Interested Person status. This status, amongst other things, allows an opportunity to have legal representation at the inquest. While the police authorities, the ambulance service and the city council will have their legal teams paid for the taxpayer, I currently have to find every penny of my legal costs.”

In a statement, Yorkshire Ambulance Service said: “Current legal costs relating to the Hillsborough inquests come to a total of £193,426. This comprises fees for our solicitors and counsel.

“The trust has offered support to all former employees of South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service involved in the Hillsborough inquests. The same level of support has been offered to each individual regardless of their current employment status.”

It was aware of the case of Mr Edwards but was unable to comment further at this stage.

Alongside the inquests, there are two criminal inquiries into events surrounding the tragedy itself and into allegations surrounding police conduct in the aftermath. The publicly-funded legal bill for eight former South Yorkshire senior police officers has already topped £3 million. The scale of further costs has led to concerns it could affect day-to-day frontline policing in South Yorkshire.

The inquests are due to resume today.