Hillsborough disaster and Rotherham scandal compensation costs leave South Yorkshire Police facing 'very serious situation'

South Yorkshire Police is facing compensation claims over its handling of the Hillsborough disaster, as well as the Rotherham abuse scandal.
South Yorkshire Police is facing compensation claims over its handling of the Hillsborough disaster, as well as the Rotherham abuse scandal.

Ongoing compensation claims against South Yorkshire Police over the Hillsborough disaster and the Rotherham abuse scandal mean the force is facing a "very serious" financial situation unless the Government steps in, police commissioner Alan Billings has warned.

In a New Year message, Dr Billings said the force was also having to deal with extra costs relating to Operation Stovewood - an investigation run by the National Crime Agency and paid for by South Yorkshire Police into historic child sexual exploitation offences in Rotherham that the force failed to properly investigate between 1997 and 2013. It came after it was revealed in 2014 there had been at least 1,400 victims in the town over the 16-year period.

Stovewood has become the largest ever investigation into child sexual exploitation offences, with almost 200 detectives and investigators assigned to it.

A police report in July said South Yorkshire Police was setting aside over £23m over the next five years to cover the costs of both compensation payments to relatives of Hillsborough disaster victims and those let down in Rotherham , as well as Stovewood.

Hundreds of people affected by the Hillsborough disaster are currently taking legal action against South Yorkshire Police, while at least 70 women who were victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham are also suing the force and Rotherham Council in separate claims.

Estimated compensation payouts in connection with Hillsborough were put at £11.6m and £4.8m for Rotherham victims who were let down by the force. A further £6.87m was expected to be spent on Operation Stovewood.

The £5.2m cost of Operation Stovewood in 2016/17 was largely covered by a Home Office grant of £4.5m - and Dr Billings said similar funding will be required in future years.

“Over the next few months we shall have to set the force’s budget for the financial year that begins in April. Every force in the country will probably have to make savings because the money the government allocates for policing plus the money from local council tax will fall a long way short of what forces need," he said.

“But in South Yorkshire we have to find additional savings because some of our money has to be used to finance the costs of those past mistakes – Hillsborough and Rotherham CSE.

Those who lost loved ones at Hillsborough or were not helped while being sexually abused as children are pursuing claims for compensation.

"The need to find the perpetrators of non-recent child sexual exploitation in Rotherham has resulted in the biggest investigation of its kind in the country with almost 200 detectives and investigators.

"All this will costs millions of pounds – money that will not be available for normal policing. Without special government grant we could be in a very serious situation. So we need a Home Secretary who will want to see South Yorkshire Police operate on at least a level playing field and not be financially hamstrung by the past."

Dr Billings said despite the financial challenges, the force is in a more positive place at the start of 2018 than it was at the same point 12 months ago.

“Last year South Yorkshire Police began a hard but necessary journey. It was still reeling from what had been revealed about past conduct at the Hillsborough football disaster and in relation to child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham. It was struggling with a policing model with which the public was unhappy. It did not have a realistic understanding of the

demand on its services or what was driving that demand. 101 was not working as it should. Not surprisingly, the verdict of the inspectorate was that the force ‘required improvement’.

“That was then. Now, a year later, we see real signs of change. The new leadership has set out a clear sense of direction and purpose based on the Police and Crime Plan. The inspectors have given the force a rating of ‘good’ for what it terms ‘legitimacy and leadership’. We begin the year, therefore, on a far more optimistic note. If the force can continue in this positive vein, there is no reason why future inspections should not find further improvements."