Football disaster legal bill disputed

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THE FAMILIES of the people who died in the Hillsborough disaster yesterday called on police chiefs to stop funding the legal costs of two former officers facing private prosecution over the deaths.

South Yorkshire Police Authority initially opted to finance the defence costs of former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield and former Superintendent Bernard Murray. But the Merseyside-based Hillsborough Families Support Group - which is bringing the private prosecution - has challenged the decision, saying it is illegal.

Sheffield MPs Clive Betts and Helen Jackson have also expressed their concern about the payment of the legal fees amid fears that the final bill could run into millions of pounds.

Critics say that money diverted to defend the officers would otherwise be available for day-to-day policing in South Yorkshire. The police authority met yesterday to discuss the issue.

Both Mr Duckenfield and Mr Murray - the two have retired from the force - are accused of unlawful killing and wilful neglect of public duty.

Mr Duckenfield is also accused of intent to pervert the course of justice by lying about the circumstances in which a gate at the ground was opened on the day of the disaster.

As well as the possible expense of a judicial review in the High Court, four weeks has been set aside for a committal hearing at Leeds magistrates' court in April. If the case continues to a lengthy Crown Court trial, the total legal bill could run into millions of pounds.

The Hillsborough Family Support Group, which has set aside pounds 500,000 for its costs, has already asked the district auditor to investigate the legality of the police authority's decision to fund the defence costs.

The disaster happened in April 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives at the FA Cup semi-final match against Nottingham Forest.