Hillsborough tragedy: police tried to raid £12m victims’ fund to provide 'worthwhile gifts' for officers on sick leave
Senior officers at South Yorkshire Police attempted to use money from a £12m disaster fund created for victims of the Hillsborough tragedy to buy microwaves, gym equipment and even a holiday home, it has emerged.
The force, which is under investigation for the cover-up over the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 during which 96 people died, suggested using leftover cash from the fund to provide “worthwhile gifts” for officers on sick leave.
The proposals, which emerged in a new analysis of documents released by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, included buying a fax machine, window blinds, a radio, television and video player for the force. It is not clear whether any of the ideas were approved by the fund’s trustees.
News of the “wish list” drawn up by senior South Yorkshire Police officers in 1991 provoked a furious reaction among Hillsborough campaigners. “It is one of the most shocking things I’ve heard in a long time,” said Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group.
“People often think all of that money went to the families, but they are wrong. It’s despicable,” added Mrs Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James was among the victims.
While much of the money did go to families, survivors and others affected by the disaster, the fund's trustees held meetings with the police to discuss how “residual” cash should be spent.
The fact that the police tried to get money from a fund set up for victims is “disgraceful” and “shows the contempt authorities had for Hillsborough families and victims”, according to Sheila Coleman, of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.
Maria Eagle, Labour MP for Garston and Halewood and shadow Secretary of State for Transport, said: “My concern is that senior officers at South Yorkshire Police, who were orchestrating and responsible for the cover-up itself, felt no compunction at all about using money which had been collected from the public to support those who had suffered, primarily the families. I find that despicable but characteristic of those senior officers. They appear to have no conscience about this.”
Steve Rotheram, MP for Liverpool Walton, said: “It’s absolutely staggering, given the police’s role in the tragedy, that they should be the ones who are then trying to profiteer from the fact that there was a fund that was set up for the families. It beggars belief.”
In a memo dated February 1991, the former Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Sir Norman Bettison, then a superintendent in South Yorkshire Police, requested £2,000 from the fund to refurbish the reception of his police station.
In the documents, Peter Hayes, the former Deputy Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, notes a meeting with Sir Norman Adsetts, a trustee of the fund, to discuss suggestions including gym equipment, microwaves, “worthwhile gifts” to police officers on sick leave, “redecoration” of police houses, and the “purchase of a holiday flat” for the use of police officers and families.
Mr Hayes, now retired from the force, made a file note in February 1991 in which he warned: “Whilst the Liverpool steering group has no direct control on the disposal of the monies, they are a powerful pressure group and as a result direct payment to the police would be a problem.”
The Deputy Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, Andy Holt, said yesterday: “In 1991 a number of organisations which had been involved in the tragedy, including South Yorkshire Police, were contacted by the trustees and invited to submit suggestions about how they could use some of the residual money better to equip them.
“As a result, South Yorkshire Police formally submitted a number of suggestions.” He added: “I am not aware that any of the various suggestions succeeded in attracting funding. ”