Concern over amount of Home Office funding awarded to pay police legal fees for Hillsborough inquests

Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire Alan Billings.
Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire Alan Billings.
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South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner is to call an emergency meeting over the amount of Home Office funding awarded to help pay the legal fees of officers involved in the Hillsborough disaster inquests.

The force has spent around £12 million to date on legal representation for eight senior police officers in positions of authority on the day of the disaster.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings applied for a Home Office grant to cover the costs and to meet the fees of other officers who may be called to give evidence in the future, claiming he felt a ‘legal obligation’ to support the officers.

On Friday he was awarded £5.1 million for 2013/14 and £5.6 million for 2014/15, but the inquests are expected to continue for another year.

Dr Billings has previously warned that the inquests could ‘bankrupt’ the police force.

He said he is disappointed with the amount awarded to cover the legal costs, claiming it is ‘substantially less’ than what the force has paid out.

Dr Billings said the shortfall would have a knock-on effect on the force’s ability to tackle crime, describing it as a ‘grave’ situation.

“The Home Office has awarded a sum estimated at £10.7 million towards the costs incurred in providing funding to interested persons involved in the Hillsborough inquests,” he said.

“This covers financial years 2013/14 and 2014/15 only and is substantially less than the total payments we have had to make.

“The special grant application I submitted was for the full amount, which leaves us the shortfall to pay.

“My office now has to undertake a financial analysis to establish the size of the shortfall and its impact on our budget.

“ I then need to consider our options in relation to the Home Secretary’s decision, and in relation to the affordability of financial assistance to the interested persons for the remainder of the inquests.

“I fully recognise the importance of these inquests and the need for a satisfactory resolution for the families of all those involved, and my sympathies are with those families and the terrible loss they have suffered.

“I am therefore committed to facilitating that satisfactory resolution by meeting my legal obligations in respect of funding those involved in the inquests. However, without adequate reimbursement from the Home Office, the communities of South Yorkshire today will have to bear the additional cost, with an ultimate impact on the police budget and our ability to provide policing and crime services.

“The position I have adopted throughout has been to be as helpful as possible to the inquests for the sake of the bereaved families, while safeguarding the financial position of the current South Yorkshire Police and public.

“We are now at a critical point for the South Yorkshire Police budget and my decisions going forward. It is vital that I fully understand the impact of any decisions I may take upon the inquests’ proceedings.

“While I recognise that the Home Secretary’s decision was a matter of discretion, I am extremely disappointed by both the timing of the announcement and the amount of funding

granted.

“By waiting until the last day of parliament, and after the South Yorkshire police budget and precept for the coming financial year had been set, the Home Secretary now makes it virtually impossible for any further appeal to be made before the general election.

“However, I will be seeking clarification of the amount and how it was calculated.

“The inquests are predicted to go on until summer 2016 and the Home Office is already on notice that we are submitting other special grant applications for other interested persons who have applied for funding, and for the further legal costs we will incur during 2015/16.

“I shall be calling an emergency meeting of my officers and senior police personnel as soon as possible to try to understand the full implications of what has been announced and the options open to us. But no one should be in any doubt that the situation South Yorkshire now faces as a result of this very late decision and less than full funding, is grave.”