Funding to defend South Yorkshire Police over Hillsborough disaster branded a 'disgrace'

Scenes from the Hillsborough disaster
Scenes from the Hillsborough disaster
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The millions of pounds spent trying to defend South Yorkshire police officers involved in the Hillsborough disaster has been branded a 'disgrace'.

Nearly £25 million was spent on legal fees for police officers involved in the Hillsborough disaster inquests over the last two years.

Home Office grants of £20.4 million were secured to cover the costs, with the remainder - £4.3 million - coming from South Yorkshire Police coffers.

There are bills of around £500,000 which still need to be paid.

A mother who lost her son in the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989 has called for a 'level playing field' for bereaved families in legal fights against public authorities following the inquests, which ruled that 96 Liverpool football fans had been 'unlawfully killed' and that blunders by the police 'caused or contributed to' the disaster.

They died after a huge crush on the terraces when too many fans were allowed into the stadium for the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

In an emotional address to MPs, Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the tragedy, said it was a 'disgrace' that South Yorkshire Police had public funding for legal representation during the inquests.

Families had access to Government-funded legal representation at the fresh inquests but did not get any help when the original inquests were held.

Mrs Aspinall called for fair funding for legal battles after Labour said funds should be made available for all relatives in Hillsborough-type legal fights.

The Hillsborough Family Support Group chairwoman said: "Everybody is entitled to legal aid. That, to me, has got to change.

"The police cannot be funded the way South Yorkshire were funded.

"To go back into court for two years ... and for them to be funded again to come out with the same lies again is a disgrace.

"At least give the victims a level playing field."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was in a Westminster committee room to hear Mrs Aspinall describe her experience of the fight for justice by the families of the 96 victims.

She broke down in tears as she said she had had to accept an insurance payout of little more than £1,000 after her son's death because she had been told she had to raise £3,000 to pay for a barrister for the original inquest in 1990.

Her comments came as Labour called for a 'rebalance' of the criminal justice system.

A proposed package of reforms includes providing parity of funding for legal representation to bereaved families.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said: "The 27-year struggle of the Hillsborough families exposes just how the odds are often stacked against ordinary families in their quest for truth about the loss of loved ones, with too much power in the hands of the authorities.

"Hillsborough must mark a moment of real change - when Parliament resolves to rebalance the police and criminal justice system and put more power in the hands of ordinary people to get justice."