Legal bill grows for police at disaster inquests

A FURTHER 14 South Yorkshire Police officers are to have their legal costs at the Hillsborough inquests paid for out of public funds, it has emerged.

A police officer stands in front of members of the press outside the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield as jurors on the inquest into the deaths of 96 Liverpool football fans killed in the Hillsborough disaster visited the stadium

The bill for eight former senior officers already funded out of the South Yorkshire Police budget has topped £3.2m.

But the local police and crime commissioner (PCC) Shaun Wright has now agreed to pay for a further 14 former and serving officers of more junior rank.

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The PCC has also ordered a review of the spending – which so far equates to the annual salaries of around 100 police constables – amid fears it may hit services in a force that has cut more than £49m from its budget over the last four years.

Mr Wright’s office said it was felt that there was little alternative but to provide the funding 
in line with a Home Office circular.

The guidance states that there is a presumption requests for 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”.

The PCC is still awaiting a decision from the Home Office after a formal application for extra money to help pay the bill was made last November.

A spokeswoman for Mr Wright said a decision was expected shortly.

The latest officers to receive approval for funding are all from the ranks of the Police Federation and will be represented at the inquests by the federation’s solicitors, Slater & Gordon Lawyers.

A spokesman for Mr Wright also acknowledged that further applications from officers at federation rank, which ranges from constables to inspectors, are possible.

The funding was approved in March but there is so far no recorded expenditure with Slater & Gordon which may mean invoices have yet to be processed.

The PCC has not named the 14 officers.

The PCC spokesman said: “The application from the 14 officers of Federated rank stated that each of the 14 had a role in the Hillsborough Disaster and its aftermath that is relevant to the inquest, for which they require legal representation, and the commissioner is providing them with financial assistance individually for that purpose.

“It is in line with the previous eight applications for financial assistance, which the commissioner has granted for coronial purposes, and where the coroner has directed work, which sometimes serves a dual purpose of supporting the simultaneous investigations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Operation Resolve.”

The PCC has also commissioned a review of the spending, led by Kent County Council, to check the current cost arrangements and “the robustness around the processes and practices in place to ensure the reasonableness of work carried out by the firms and their agents (including counsel and any experts)”.