Football

South Yorkshire and West Midlands police agree payouts for Hillsborough ‘cover-up’


South Yorkshire and West Midlands police have agreed a settlement with more than 600 people to compensate them for the false police campaign aimed at avoiding responsibility for the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and blame the victims instead, which bereaved families have always said was a cover-up.

The forces will pay compensation to families whose relatives were among the 96 men, women and children unlawfully killed at Hillsborough, and to survivors of the disaster, for additional trauma and psychiatric damage caused by the police campaign.

The financial recompense is for the psychiatric injuries the families and survivors have suffered, and to pay for treatment or counselling. The civil claims, alleging misfeasance in a public office, were first made in September 2015, during the new inquests into how the 96 people died.

The inquest’s jury wholly rejected the South Yorkshire police case, which was advanced again, that people who were at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium to support Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest had caused the disaster by being drunk and misbehaving.

The jury found that no behaviour of the Liverpool supporters contributed to the dangerous situation at the ground, and that the 96 were unlawfully killed due to gross negligence by the South Yorkshire police officer in command of the match, Ch Supt David Duckenfield.

South Yorkshire police previously agreed in November 1989 to settle claims for compensation to bereaved families and some of those injured in the disaster, which amounted to £19.8m, according to the Hillsborough independent panel’s 2012 report.

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Sheffield Wednesday and the club’s stadium engineers, Eastwood & Partners, contributed £1.5m each, and Sheffield city council, the safety authority for the ground, contributed £1m.

Lawyers who have acted for the family members and survivors in the new claims for psychiatric damage described the police campaign after the disaster as “one of the largest and most shameful cover-ups by a police force in history”.

In a statement, they said: “Through this civil claim for misfeasance in a public office, 601 victims sought justice and accountability for the deliberate, orchestrated and thoroughly dishonest police cover-up that suppressed the truth about the responsibility of the police, and blamed the football supporters for the horrific events that unfolded at the Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989.

“Ninety-six Liverpool supporters were unlawfully killed as a result of the police failings that day, and countless others suffered physical and psychological harm.

“The distress and heartache caused by the loss of life, and the injuries caused to those who survived, were made significantly worse by the lies told and the cover-up that followed. As a result of the cover-up, that was maintained for nearly 30 years, the victims, both the bereaved and the survivors, and their families and loved ones, suffered additional psychiatric injury.

“No amount of money can compensate them for the ordeal they have suffered, but this settlement acknowledges both the cover-up and its impact upon each of the victims.”

In a tweet Charlotte Hennessy, who was six when her father, Jimmy, then 29, was unlawfully killed at Hillsborough, thanked the families’ legal teams but said the settlements were “insulting” and that the process had been “so humiliating, having to justify your own mental torture”.

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Margaret Aspinall, who was the last chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said she lost a “gem” when her son James, then 18, was killed at Hillsborough, and the settlements “mean nothing to me”. Aspinall said she remained very angry about the lack of accountability for the unlawful killing of 96 people, and the police lies that followed.

West Midlands was the force appointed to investigate the disaster, but has since been accused of malpractices and failures that have been subject to a long-running investigation by the Independent Office of Police Conduct.

The families have not been able publicly to mention the settlement, which was agreed at the end of April, while the prosecution was still ongoing of two former South Yorkshire police officers and the force’s then lawyer on charges of perverting the course of public justice for amending police statements after the disaster.

The three defendants were formally acquitted last week after the judge, Mr Justice William Davis, stopped the trial on the basis that the public inquiry held by Lord Justice Taylor, to which the amended statements were sent, was not a “course of public justice”.

The defendants all pleaded not guilty, and since their acquittal, two of their barristers have said publicly that there was no police cover-up after the disaster. The Crown Prosecution Service barrister Sarah Whitehouse QC also infuriated families by appearing to minimise their 32-year fight for recognition that there was a cover-up. Whitehouse said in court there had always been a “swirl of rumour” about there having been a cover-up.

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Yet South Yorkshire police was agreeing settlements to the claims of public misfeasance, which alleged a cover-up, while the trial was taking place.

The acting chief constable of South Yorkshire police, Lauren Poultney, said: “We offer an unreserved apology to those affected by the Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath.

“We acknowledge that serious errors and mistakes were made by South Yorkshire police, both on 15 April 1989 and during the subsequent investigations.

“Those actions on the day of the disaster tragically led to lives being lost and many being injured.

“The force’s subsequent failings also caused huge distress, suffering and pain, both to the victims and their families. This is something South Yorkshire police profoundly regrets.

“Since 2016, we have worked closely and in a constructive manner with the legal representatives of the families affected by the Hillsborough tragedy to agree a scheme to compensate those affected. We know these settlements can never make up for what they have lost and suffered.

“We would like to thank the families for their dignified approach, which has enabled us to progress and agree the scheme. Today, our thoughts continue to be with them and the loved ones they have lost.”

West Midlands police have also been approached for comment.





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