The law firm Broudie Jackson Canter, which represents families of 20 of the 96 Hillsborough victims, has written to Theresa May, asking her to launch a root-and-branch investigation into the “shambles” at the force.
The proposal, backed by Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, could lead to the imposition of remedial measures on South Yorkshire police following a potential inquiry by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
The growing calls for action came after South Yorkshire’s stand-in chief constable, Dawn Copley, stepped down when it emerged her conduct at a previous force was being investigated.
The force is searching for a new chief constable after David Crompton was suspended a day after the inquest jury’s finding that the 96 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed in the FA Cup semi-final on 15 April 1989. The historic verdict vindicated the families of the dead, who have fought for 27 years to get to the truth of the worst sporting disaster in British history. The jury found after a two-year inquest that the supporters were blameless, casting aside years of false slurs given by the police.
A lawyer acting for hundreds of those affected by the disaster said it would be remarkable if the under-pressure force survived growing criticism of its role. James Saunders, partner of the solicitors’ firm Saunders Law, said: “At the top you have this arrogance, this lack of understanding of the importance of transparency and for whose good the organisation exists. They knew all along what did and didn’t happen [at Hillsborough] and hid it.”
Saunders, whose law firm is suing South Yorkshire police and West Midlands police on behalf of hundreds of those affected by Hillsborough, urged the home secretary to give serious thought to disbanding the force. “This is institutional misfeasance. What everyone’s assumed is that public bodies will be pointed in the right direction and see their own interests as secondary to those of the public - we’ve just found out this isn’t how it has worked in South Yorkshire,” he said.
Asked whether the families want the force broken up, he said: “At a certain level the answer is bound to be yes because a public body can’t carry on like this. There has to be accountability and trust.”
In its statement, BJC urged May to mount a “rigorous and continuing examination of the ethical behaviour of the force at every level”. The firm said: “We believe the rank and file officers in the force are being let down by their leaders. Sadly the only solution would appear to be the application of remedial measures.”
The families’ calls were backed by Vaz, who described South Yorkshire police as “a troubled police force”. He said: “Getting an effective acting chief constable in place, making sure they carry out their proper duties is a short term thing she needs to do, but in the long term I think you need to look very carefully at the whole organisation and consider this in the light of a history of activity not just over Hillsborough. Otherwise you will get a continuation of this mess that seems to have gripped this particular police force. It is not good for police officers doing their job and its certainly not good for the public in South Yorkshire.”
In a home office statement, May said she understood the families’ concerns about South Yorkshire police. She said: “The decision to hire and fire a chief officer is a matter for the police and crime commissioner, in order to ensure direct accountability to the communities served by the force. The current PCC, Alan Billings, has taken a decision to suspend the chief constable and I understand that a process is under way to find temporary leadership while his replacement is found. I stand ready to support that process, and to help South Yorkshire police confront the mistakes of the past and regain the confidence of their community.”
This article was written by Josh Halliday, for theguardian.com on Friday 29th April 2016 19.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010