In his recent letter Cyril Olsen asks some questions about the costs of the Hillsborough inquests.
Briefly, a police force is sometimes identified as an interested party in legal proceedings and individual police officers sometimes require legal representation where they find themselves in court or at an inquest as a result of their job.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for the force area has a legal obligation to fund legal costs, though the commissioner has to have regard to certain criteria and the total police budget.
In the case of the Hillsborough inquests – there were 96 taking place at the same time – there were a number of legal teams representing those officers who played key roles on the day of the disaster.
These were provided with financial assistance - though no funding was available to a larger number of other officers who were also called as witnesses. T
he Chief Constable’s legal team was in fact representing the present day South Yorkshire Police force, rather than the Chief Constable as an individual – though he instructed the legal team.
The sums of money reflect the work of teams of QCs, more junior barristers and solicitors over the two-year period of the inquests – the longest legal process of its kind in history.
You can imagine how anxious I became as the inquests went on, and for much of that time I was seeking to ensure that there was the money to pay for them (see the PCC website).
This involved seeing the Home Secretary to ask for Special Grants, since there was no way South Yorkshire could fund this without undermining normal policing.
The total costs of the inquests have been about £25m, of which the Home Secretary finally agreed to fund £20m – though I didn’t know in advance how much that might be.
As a nation we must find a way of funding big inquiries of this kind so that they are thorough but not protracted, otherwise the costs to the public will be exorbitant. And we need to have that in place for Orgreave.
Dr Alan Billings, Police and Crime Commissioner