The Home Secretary has agreed to provide extra funding to South Yorkshire Police after a warning the Hillsborough inquests could be derailed because the force could no longer afford to pay millions of pounds in legal bills.
Theresa May has agreed to provide £5m to help pay the costs after the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Alan Billings raised concerns that former senior officers formally represented at the long-running proceedings could withdraw if their legal teams went unpaid.
A report from the PCC’s office in September revealed law firms representing former officers had already been contacted to advise “they need to explore alternative sources of funding for their clients’ representation so as to mitigate the risks to the inquest proceedings”.
South Yorkshire has been grappling with a potentially crippling legal bill for representation at the inquests in Warrington which has now topped £20m.
The Home Office has previously provided £14.5m to help pay the £17m in costs run-up during the last two financial years, largely by former senior officers who played a key role in events surrounding the disaster, including former chief supt David Duckenfield and seven others at superintendent or chief officer level.
South Yorkshire also has to fund the representation of its own chief constable at the inquests but the Home Office had said only £1m in special grant would be available for the current financial year.
As a result the force estimated it had to find up to another £6m to pay legal costs at the same time as cutting millions of pounds from the budget because of austerity measures.
The PCC could also faces paying legal bills of other former officers involved in the inquests who have requested funding and the perilous financial position is exacerbated by the cost of extensive child sexual exploitation investigations which are running to millions.