This '˜erosion of public trust': South Yorkshire police chief suspended over Hillsborough verdicts

The chief constable of South Yorkshire Police has been suspended in the wake of the Hillsborough inquest findings.

David Crompton
David Crompton

The move comes 24 hours after David Crompton admitted his force got the policing of the match “catastrophically wrong” and “unequivocally” accepted the inquest jury’s conclusions.

Earlier yesterday, the jury found that 96 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed.

South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings today said he had no choice but to act “based on the erosion of public trust and confidence”.

David Crompton

Dr Billings said: “I have been left with no choice other than to suspend David from his duties as chief constable of South Yorkshire police.

“I have reached this decision with a heavy heart following discussions with David both in the run-up to and following the delivery of the Hillsborough verdicts.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham in the House of Commons

“My decision is based on the erosion of public trust and confidence referenced in statements and comments in the House of Commons this lunchtime, along with public calls for the chief constable’s resignation from a number of quarters.”

Describing the discussion he had with Mr Crompton, Dr Billings said: “We had a very brief conversation and all I could do was say to the chief constable that I was suspending him because I was getting increasingly anxious about the way public trust and confidence was beginning to drain away today, so we had to stop that.”

Just last month Mr Crompton announced he would retire from his £195,000 a year job in November.

His four-year reign as chief has been dogged by controversy with his force facing a public outcry over the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal, and at the same time struggling to cope with the legacy of a troubled history, including calls for a public inquiry into police conduct surrounding the so-called ‘Battle of Orgreave’ during the 1984/85 miners’ strike.

David Crompton

Dr Billings said the new chief constable would need to be “strong and focused”, with an “emphasis” on building the trust and confidence of the public.

He acknowledged that there was “clearly a difference of perception” between Mr Crompton and the families of the victims in relation to questions being asked with regard to whether the fans were to blame.

“My understanding was that the barristers acting for South Yorkshire Police, ie the chief constable, would not be pursuing any aggressive questioning of the chief constable, the kind that I know the families would find distressing.

“So I probably will revisit that and have a look at what some of the allegations are that have been made, what they centre on,” he said.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham in the House of Commons

Responding to calls for the force to be disbanded, Dr Billings said it was “too big a step”.

Mr Crompton’s suspension finally came after a day of intense pressure, during which his position was branded “untenable”.

Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham launched a fierce attack on South Yorkshire Police, accusing the force of consistently putting protecting itself ahead of protecting the victims of the disaster and describing its leadership as “rotten to the core”.

He said there should be “no holding back” in pursuing prosecutions and called for “fundamental reform” of the force.

The Leigh MP said during the course of the inquests South Yorkshire Police had gone back on their 2012 public apology over the Hillsborough tragedy and had turned the process into an “adversarial battle”.

“Shamefully, the cover-up continued in this Warrington courtroom. Millions of pounds of public money were spent retelling discredited lies against Liverpool supporters.

“Lawyers for retired officers threw disgusting slurs around. Those for today’s force tried to establish that others were responsible for the opening of the gate.

“If the police had chose to maintain its apology, this inquest would have been much shorter but they didn’t and they put the families through hell once again.

“It pains me to say it but the NHS through the Yorkshire Ambulance Service was guilty of the same,” he said.

Mr Burnham said Mr Crompton’s handling of the inquest meant his position as chief constable was now “untenable”.

The Shadow Home Secretary also told MPs the full truth about Hillsborough would not be known until events at the so-called “Battle of Orgreave” in the 1984/5 miners’ strike had been properly examined.

“This force used the same underhand tactics against its own people in the aftermath of the miners’ strike that it would later use to more deadly effect against the people of Liverpool.”

Mr Burnham said he had been told redacted parts of an Independent Police Complaints Commission report into events at Orgreave contained links with Hillsborough.

In a Commons speech applauded by fellow MPs, Mr Burnham called for a “Hillsborough clause” to be added to legislation currently going through Parliament to stop police officer avoiding disciplinary proceedings by retiring.

Home Secretary Theresa May had earlier urged South Yorkshire Police to accept the findings of the inquest.

Mrs May said: “I hope that we will not see attempts to try and somehow suggest that those verdicts were not clear or in any way wrong.

“That jury sat through 296 days of evidence and they were clear about the role of South Yorkshire Police officers.”

Labour’s Toby Perkins, who compared the attitude towards the fans to that towards modern-day asylum seekers, also said the head of the force should consider his position.

The Chesterfield MP said: “This was allowed to happen because, in the eyes of the establishment, football fans were less than human.

“As soon as the police and the press see groups of people not as individual people but as less than human then we enter into dangerous circumstances.

“Before then the miners were less than human and we may look today at how we treat disabled people, asylum seekers or the victims of child sex abuse and wonder if we also think maybe they are less than human and maybe that’s a lesson for all of us.”

He asked: “Do you believe that people of South Yorkshire should have confidence in the current leadership of South Yorkshire Police and whether indeed you have confidence in the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police?”

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