Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Hillsborough inquests: Public should not 'pay the price' of costs

David Blunkett
Image caption Lord Blunkett said the public "should not be at the receiving end of a reduced police service"

Former Home Secretary Lord Blunkett has said front-line policing in South Yorkshire should not suffer as a result of legal fees incurred by the Hillsborough inquests.

The ex-Sheffield Brightside MP said he fears residents could end up "paying the price" for costs of the two-year hearings.

South Yorkshire Police's legal bill for the inquests totalled £25.1m.

The Home Office said it had paid £20.4m of legal costs incurred by the force.

Figures released by the office of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner show it has so far paid about £4.3m of the total legal bill.

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It is unclear whether the force or the Home Office will pay £400,000 in remaining unpaid fees.

'Reduced police service'

An analysis of the force's legal costs by the BBC has determined that each household in South Yorkshire eligible to pay council tax has effectively contributed £12 towards the payment of the force's outstanding legal bill.

Lord Blunkett called on current Home Secretary Theresa May to ensure front line policing in the region does not suffer financially.

"The force has already had to deal with a reduction in its budget as part of the government's austerity programme," he said.

"But then on top of that they are having to deal with the costs of Hillsborough, an investigation into child sexual exploitation and grooming in Rotherham, and also allegations of malpractice during the Miners' Strike.

"The people of South Yorkshire were not responsible for the disaster in 1989. They should not be at the receiving end of a reduced police service and that is why the Theresa May must work with the PCC to ensure that South Yorkshire people do not pay the price for what happened in the past."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption At the Hillsborough Inquests at Warrington Coroners' Court. the jury found all 96 Liverpool fans who died were unlawfully killed

The latest accounts for the force show that it has already begun to draw on its financial reserves in order to pay its legal costs.

In 2015/16, South Yorkshire Police had overall reserves worth £44m.

It directly withdrew £2.4m in the same year to pay its legal fees in connection to the inquests, while its 2016/17 budget shows the force is expected to draw a further £3.9m from its coffers.

'Cannot depend on grants'

It is unclear from the accounts if all of the money withdrawn from the reserves will be spent on legal costs.

Public bodies such as local councils and police forces keep financial reserves in order to make up short-term budget deficits.

After the ruling that all 96 Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough were unlawfully killed, concerns were raised about the effect future legal proceedings could have on South Yorkshire Police's finances.

Writing in the 2016/17 Budget report, Allan Rainford, the Police and Crime Commissioner's Chief Finance and Commissioning Officer, said the force "cannot depend on grants from the Home Office to fully meet its legal costs".

As a result, the latest budget shows the force is planning to set aside at least £7.2m a year for the next four years to deal with "legacy issues".

When asked if the Home Office would continue to cover the force's future legal costs in relation to the Hillsborough disaster, a spokesperson said: "Any subsequent requests will be considered in the normal way."

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