THE longest-running inquest hearings in British legal history will almost certainly turn out to be the most expensive with the cost to taxpayers likely to top £70m.
The vast majority has gone to solicitors and barristers representing the various public bodies, former senior South Yorkshire Police officers and victims’ families at the two-year long inquests into the Hillsborough disaster.
South Yorkshire Police have so far paid out more than £22m, including £20.5m paid to lawyers representing former officers and £1.6m on the force’s own legal costs for representation at the hearings in Warrington.
More than £14m alone has gone to Lewis Hymanson Small, a firm of solicitors representing five former superintendents including match commander, chief supt David Duckenfield.
Most of South Yorkshire’s costs have been met by £19.4m in special grant funding agreed by Home Secretary Theresa May over the last two years after pleas for help from South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissoner (PCC), Alan Billings.
Most of South Yorkshire’s costs have been met by £19.4m in special grant funding agreed by Home Secretary Theresa May over the last two years after pleas for help from South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissoner (PCC), Alan Billings. The latest tranche of government funding, of £5m, was agreed by Mrs May in November after the PCC’s office warned it may have to halt payments because it could no longer afford them.
Another estimated £20m has gone on the cost of running the inquests themselves, with the largest amount - likely to be end up around £9m - paid to lawyers working on behalf of the coroner Sir John Goldring.
But the biggest cost is likely to be fees paid to lawyers working for the families of the 96 victims who were represented by six different law firms and more than 30 different barristers. The costs are likely to at least match those of South Yorkshire Police and may comfortably exceed them.
The Home Office, which agreed to fund the families’ costs to ensure the victims of the disaster were comprehensively represented, is the only public body involved that has declined to say how much has been spent. A spokesman said the amount would be disclosed in due course after the conclusion of the inquests.
The police, former officers and families were among a series of people and organisations granted ‘designated interested person’ status at the inquests by Sir John Goldring, which meant they had the right to be formally represented by counsel. Many of the organisations were public bodies who were involved in events on the day in 1989 and/or subsequent investigations.
Yorkshire Ambulance Service, which took over responsibility for the former South Yorkshire Ambulance Service when services merged in 2006, has spent £1.5m on legal costs for the inquests. The adequacy of the ambulance service’s response to the disaster came under close scrutiny during the inquests.
South Yorkshire Fire Service, which was responsible for capacity at the stadium, has run up £1.3m in legal costs. The Home Office declined a request from the fire service to provide extra funding to help ease the financial burden.
The legal bill for Sheffield City Council, which was responsible for Hillsborough’s safety certificate, is just over £1m.
The Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the two Sheffield hospitals (Northern General and Royal Hallamshire) that received the injured from Hillsborough, said it has spent around £445,000 on legal costs. A spokesman said the Department of Health had provided additional funding to pay the bill.
West Midlands Police, who initially investigated the disaster and collected evidence - including statements from South Yorkshire officers - for the original inquests in 1990, said it had spent £256,000 in the last two financial years. The force didn’t have a figure available for 2013/14, which would have included preparatory work for the inquests which began in March 2014.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is overseeing separate investigations into Hillsborough, has spent £321,000 on its representation at the inquests.
Many of the totals may increase as more recent invoices from lawyers are received for payment.