South Yorkshire Police officers who served in the 1980s have been told they “did a good job” in the wake of the Hillsborough inquests’ damning verdicts.
The statement provoked outrage from families of those killed and their supporters, who said the “praise” was insensitive and undeserved for the bulk of police involved in the disaster.
A message from the South Yorkshire National Association of Retired Police Officers (Narpo), which has since been removed, acknowledged that “mistakes were made” but said they should be proud of the way the miners’ dispute and Yorkshire Ripper cases were handled.
It came after a jury found the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed, listing a catalogue of police failings that could result in criminal charges.
David Crompton, the current Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, was suspended on Wednesday amid continued anger over disproven claims Liverpool fans were to blame for the deaths.
Rick Naylor, a Narpo member who was working at Hillsborough on the day, wrote a message to colleagues titled “It was a bad day” as the furore continued.
“Mistakes were made and we would all like to turn the clock back,” it said, according to the BBC.
Mr Naylor said that despite the failings found by the inquests, “there were many examples of outstanding actions and selflessness by police officers on that tragic day as they did their best to deal with the disaster unfolding before them”.
He added that the group tried to remain dignified while “bile and hatred” was directed towards the force, which faced “immense challenges” in the 1980s.
“You will be feeling sore, angry and disheartened, but you did a good job - we all did,” the statement said.
The message was intended to be internal and was made public by accident, the BBC reported. Mr Naylor said the comments were not meant to offend.
Barry Devonside, whose 18-year-old son Christopher died in the tragedy, said: “They didn't do a good job. Yes, I saw police officers endeavouring to give mouth-to-mouth or CPR and those people were excellent.
“But the sad thing is they were only a few, maybe on two hands you could count them.”
Louise Brookes, whose brother Andrew died, said it made her “very angry”, telling the BBC police “literally turned their backs” when he needed them the most.
Steve Rotheram, the Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, called the statement “totally insensitive”.
“For families - for them to have at long last to have some faith in the British judicial system and that the police had changed and that things were different - it feeds that 'us versus them' and we thought we'd put a line under that,” he added.
“I don't think there was bile and hatred towards police officers, I think the bile and hatred was one way and that was towards Liverpool fans and some of that was a direct consequence of the police being part of an orchestrated cover-up.”
The message has since been replaced by a statement co-signed by Mr Naylor and Mick Brookfield, who are secretary and chairman of the association’s welfare group respectively.
It said retired South Yorkshire Police officers “have always had great sympathy” for the families and friends of Hillsborough victims and had co-operated with the two-year inquests, an ongoing criminal investigation and probe by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
“We are proud of the manner in which our members have volunteered to assist with the process, many are now elderly and in failing health,” Mr Naylor and Mr Brookfield said.
“Without their cooperation the proceedings would not have been possible.”
The statement said around 200 retired officers had travelled from around the UK to give evidence at the inquests in Warrington on a “completely voluntary basis”.
“As heard during the inquest there were many examples of outstanding actions and selflessness by police officers on that tragic day as they did their best to deal with the disaster unfolding before them,” it added.
South Yorkshire Narpo’s welfare group was set up to support officers who attended Hillsborough through the “difficult and stressful” period.
The force came under fire in the House of Commons on Wednesday, with criticism led by Andy Burnham, who accused the force of “protecting itself above protecting people”.
The shadow Home Secretary echoed calls made by the victims’ families for the Chief Constable's resignation, saying relatives had been put “through hell again” during the longest jury case in British legal history.
He said millions of pounds of public money had been used to continue a “cover-up” and retell “discredited lies against Liverpool supporters”.
Home Secretary Theresa May raised concerns over South Yorkshire Police's response to the jury's findings and praised the victims' relatives for their “steel and determination”.
The force said it had not sought to defend its failures in the inquest, but added: “Nevertheless, these failures had to be put into the context of other contributory factors.”
The criminal investigation into the Hillsborough disaster, Operation Resolve, is expected to finish by the end of the year, when the Crown Prosecution Service will consider bringing charges.
In a separate probe into the aftermath of the deaths, the IPCC is investigating allegations that police fed the media false stories blaming fans, changed official accounts and put campaigners under surveillance in its “biggest and most complex investigation ever”.
Additional reporting by PA
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