The police force accused of covering up Britain’s worst-ever sporting disaster profited from the tragedy by keeping money found among the dead and dying at Hillsborough, The Independent can reveal.
South Yorkshire Police (SYP), the force whose officers falsely accused Liverpool fans of robbing from the dead at Hillsborough, held on to cash from the ground for almost three years before deciding to bank it – rather than donate the money to the disaster fund set up to help victims of the tragedy.
The revelation, in documents released by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, prompted an angry response from campaigners on Sunday night, with SYP’s actions branded “an absolute disgrace” and “beyond belief”.
A memorandum dated January 1992 details personal possessions which had been recovered from the disaster, where the owners were not known. It reveals that while officers were cautious about destroying clothing, they showed few reservations when it came to the loose change. Cash totalling £14.53 was part of the inventory and a recommendation to “pay this into the finance department” was agreed without reservation.
The news comes after it emerged last month that the force attempted to get thousands of pounds from the disaster fund to pay for gym equipment, microwaves and a holiday home.
Sheila Coleman, from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said: “That the force responsible for the deaths of 96 people kept some of the money found at Hillsborough is beyond belief. The fact that they decided to keep it, and not even consider donating it to the disaster fund, speaks volumes as to the mind-set of the South Yorkshire Police and their contempt for Liverpool football fans and their friends and families.”
And Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose son, James, 18, was among the victims, said: “This is an absolute disgrace and very ironic, when they were accusing the fans of robbing the dead. I just find that rather appalling.”
An SYP spokeswoman stressed that the cash was banked “in accordance with the policy operating at that time” and that “unclaimed monies should have been placed into the Police Property Act Fund maintained by the then police authority which would then have been available for payment towards such charitable purposes as the authority might determine.”
She added: “South Yorkshire Police are unable to comment on how these particular monies may have been dealt with, as financial records from that time do not exist.
“Whilst there is no reason to believe the proper processes were not followed, any further investigation of the circumstances in which this sum was recovered and applied would fall to be addressed, if at all, by the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission] as part of its ongoing investigation.”
It has also emerged that within weeks of the tragedy, in which 96 died and hundreds more were injured, police officers were encouraged to try and get compensation from a fund created for the victims.
In a letter to Sir Peter Wright, then chief constable, in June 1989, Paul Middup, secretary of the Police Federation’s South Yorkshire branch, stated: “I see no reason why our officers should not claim from the Hillsborough one,” and asked him to bring the matter to “everyone’s notice” through force orders.
Although the chief constable decided against doing this, he agreed to help by getting a force welfare officer to contact individual officers “about their rights in this regard” according to a file note by former deputy chief constable Peter Hayes [Feb 1990].