Watchdog accused of failing Hillsborough families after refusing to investigate suspended South Yorkshire police chief constable
The police watchdog has refused to probe instructions made by the suspended chief constable for South Yorkshire Police to his legal team over concerns that the lawyers attempted to pin the blame Liverpool fans for the tragedy which claimed the lives of 96 fans at the recent inquests. The Hillsborough families accuse David Crompton of directing his lawyers to act in an overly-adversarial manner, backtracking on previously stated public apologies as to their own role in pedaling lies abut the behaviour of fans made in the wake of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
Crompton had been asked by the families’ lawyers to waive legal privilege so that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) could properly investigate their complaint about his legal team’s conduct. The watchdog has refused to investigate further. Pete Weatherby QC, who represented 22 families at the inquest, called it ‘a deeply regrettable decision’ by the watchdog.
‘The IPCC were represented by counsel in the inquest proceedings so they know precisely how Mr Crompton conducted South Yorkshire Police’s case,’ he said. ‘From blaming the supporters, Sheffield Wednesday stewards and the Council, South Yorkshire Police tried to avoid responsibility, directly contrary to Mr Crompton’s public apology and acceptance of responsibility in 2012. So long as senior public servants are allowed to act with impunity there will be little trust in the police, the IPCC or public authorities generally.’
Following the publication of the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2012, David Crompton made the following apology:
‘On that day South Yorkshire Police failed the victims and families. The police lost control. In the immediate aftermath senior officers sought to change the record of events. Disgraceful lies were told which blamed the Liverpool fans for the disaster. Statements were altered which sought to minimise police blame. These actions have caused untold pain and distress for over 23 years. I am profoundly sorry for the way the force failed on 15th April 1989 and I am doubly sorry for the injustice that followed and I apologise to the families of the 96 and Liverpool fans.’
You can read Mark George QC on the conduct of South Yorkshire Police’s lawyers at the inquest here
Trevor Hicks, whose two daughters died in the disaster, told the Guardian that the IPCC had taken ‘the soft option to use what we consider a technicality to brush it away’. ‘It’s only going to fuel the discontent with the IPCC, and won’t help the said-to-be-genuine desire of South Yorkshire police to build bridges,’ he said.
Elkan Abrahamson of Broudie Jackson Canter, representing 20 of the Hillsborough families, said that the IPCC decision was predictable. ‘Yet again South Yorkshire Police protect their own, yet again the IPCC are impotent, and yet again the taxpayer will foot the bill when Mr Crompton sues the force for unfair dismissal.’
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award