South Yorkshire Police chief 'must go after catastrophic Hillsborough statement'

Members of a policing scrutiny panel have called on South Yorkshire's embattled chief constable David Crompton to be dismissed because of his 'catastrophic error of judgement' after the verdict in the new Hillsborough disaster inquests.

David Crompton

The South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel has recommended that police commissioner Dr Alan Billings should call for the retirement or resignation of Mr Crompton, who was suspended in April.

Dr Billings is expected to announce his decision on whether he will effectively sack the £162,000-a-year chief constable in the coming days after starting dismissal proceedings against him earlier in the summer.

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Members of the police and crime panel, which is largely made up of councillors, questioned Mr Crompton and Dr Alan Billings about the force’s conduct during the Hillsborough inquests at a private meeting on Friday.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings at the press conference to announce the interim chief constable of South Yorkshire as David Jones. Picture: Andrew Roe

They focused on the statement issued by the chief constable in the days after the conclusion of the inquests, made in response to criticism of the force for seemingly going back on an earlier apology issued in 2012 about Britain’s worst sporting disaster by seeking to focus on the behaviour of Liverpool supporters.

Figures including Labour MP Andy Burnham called for an explanation of the line of questioning taken by the force’s lawyers and claimed this had prolonged the agony of the victims’ families.

On April 26, the jury at the Hillsborough inquests returned verdicts of unlawful killing and found that the behaviour of football supporters did not cause or contribute to the dangerous situation at the ground.

On April 27, Mr Crompton issued a statement which said the force “never sought, at any stage, to defend the failures of SYP or its officers”.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings at the press conference to announce the interim chief constable of South Yorkshire as David Jones. Picture: Andrew Roe

But he said: “Nevertheless, these failures had to be put into the context of other contributory factors. In other words, where do the failings of SYP stand in the overall picture?”

The scrutiny panel said that the decision to publish this statement “was a catastrophic error of judgment for two reasons”.

It said: “Firstly because of the inevitable risk that it would be perceived as rowing back on the previous apology and not accepting the inquest verdicts, and secondly because the statement suggested that South Yorkshire Police was not learning from its past failures and continued to be defensive and to put the protection of its own reputation above the welfare of the families.

“This second reason was of particular concern in the context of South Yorkshire, where it is crucial that victims of Child Sexual Exploitation have sufficient confidence in the police to come forward and where, if there is to be an inquiry into events at Orgreave during the Miners’ Strike, it will be important that people have confidence that the police will engage in inquiry process in a proper manner.”

It added: “Although it was not the Chief Constable’s intention, this press release was widely interpreted as a qualification of the unequivocal apology given the previous day.”

Dr Billings suspended Mr Crompton on April 27, citing a loss of public trust amid fallout from the inquests and criticism South Yorkshire Police had re-run discredited arguments during the two-year long hearings seeking to blame Liverpool supporters for the 1989 disaster at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield.

Any PCC using the legal power to require a chief constable to resign or retire must seek the views of HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, currently Sir Tom Winsor, and the police and crime panel, though he doesn’t have to accept their opinions and responsibility for the final decision remains with the PCC.

It was reported last week that Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor said the decision to suspend Mr Crompton was “disproportionate” and that he should be reinstated.

Mr Crompton, who is due to retire in November after 31 years service, has been paid more than £60,000 while suspended on a full annual salary of around £162,000 and any decision to remove him from office will have no effect on his final pension.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, said today: “I have received the recommendation from the Police and Crime Panel and will now consider it, along with those I have received from other parties, before making my decision in due course.

“Once I have come to a decision, and it has been communicated to all parties, I will comment further and publish documents relevant to the process.”