Retired South Yorkshire Police officers who served in the 1980s have been told they ‘did a good job’ after facing ‘bile and hatred’ over the Hillsborough inquest verdicts.
The South Yorkshire National Association of Retired Police Officers has been criticised by families of Hillsborough victims after an internal message to former officers was accidentally posted on its website.
Rick Naylor, secretary of the organisation, said in it that former officers had ‘great sympathy’ for the families.
But he said members would be feeling ‘sore, angry and disheartened’ by the criticism and highlighted the force’s success in catching the Yorkshire Ripper.
“You did a good job – we all did,” he added.
The message, which has since been removed, said: “Mistakes were made and we would all like to turn the clock back.”
Mr Naylor said the comments were not meant to offend.
The internal message, titled ‘It was a bad day’, said: “We put out a statement on Tuesday and tried to remain dignified amongst all the bile and hatred directed towards South Yorkshire Police and those of us who served in the 1980s.
“After all that transpired it has not shaken my belief – I worked in a great police force with fantastic people who did extraordinary things.
“I am extremely proud to have been an ex-South Yorkshire cop and I will hold my head up.”
He said he was ‘extremely proud’ to have served as an SYP officer during the period, which included the steel and miners’ strikes and the Hillsborough disaster.
Mr Naylor said: “All these challenges tested SYP and, yes, mistakes were made and we would all like to turn the clock back but beyond those headlines the communities of South Yorkshire were served by dedicated police officers, full of good humour, courage and selflessness.”
Barry Devonside, whose 18-year-old son Christopher died in the tragedy, hit back saying: “They didn’t do a good job. Yes, I saw police officers endeavouring to give mouth to mouth or CPR and those people were excellent.
“But the sad thing is they were only a few, maybe on two hands you could count them.
“There was over 200 police officers walking around that pitch aimlessly, no direction, no leadership.”
Labour MP for Liverpool Walton Steve Rotheram said: “The people of Merseyside will have some sympathy with the people of South Yorkshire because I bet they feel slighted at having a force that continually fails to live up to the standards we would all expect with our own forces.
“I think there needs to be a period of deep soul-searching in South Yorkshire and they need to think about what changes they need to make. I’m not talking about artificial changes – they need to learn lessons so the likes of what happened can’t happen again and they accept the findings of a two-year coronial process.”
A jury found at the conclusion of a two-year inquest on Tuesday that the 96 victims of the Sheffield stadium disaster in 1989 were unlawfully killed.
A second statement co-signed by the retired officers association’s chairman, Mick Brookfield, said: “Retired officers from South Yorkshire Police have always had great sympathy for the grief of the families and friends of the 96 who so tragically lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster. Today, as always, our thoughts are with them. We sincerely hope that they have gained some comfort from the Inquests.
“We are proud of the manner in which our members have volunteered to assist with the process. Many are now elderly and in failing health; without their co-operation the proceedings would not have been possible.”
It added: “As heard during the inquest, there were many examples of outstanding actions and selflessness by police officers on that tragic day as they did their best to deal with the disaster unfolding before them.”