09:06, June 09 65 0 theguardian.com

2017-06-09 09:06:02

 

Former chief constable's Hillsborough sacking was 'unlawful and irrational'

The South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner (PCC), Alan Billings, acted unlawfully and irrationally when he sacked the force’s chief constable, David Crompton, a day after last year’s verdicts in the Hillsborough inquests, the high court has ruled.

Lawyers for Crompton claimed there was no fair or reasonable basis for forcing him out of office. Crompton attacked the decision taken by Billings following the inquest findings into the deaths at the Hillsborough stadium disaster 27 years before.

Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham, sitting in London, ruled in Crompton’s favour on Friday.

Billings’s decision to sack Crompton was not based on the case South Yorkshire police presented at the inquests, but on a press statement issued the following day, 27 April 2016.

Garnham said the decision was irrational and “wholly disproportionate”.

In the judgment, Billings’s conduct at the time – refusing to consider and advise on the press statement when Crompton consulted him about it following criticism of the police’s case by bereaved families and politicians – was described as “surprising in the extreme”, “a serious error” and “wholly unreasonable”.

Billings was also found to have acted irrationally and unreasonably in failing to take account of an opinion last June from the HM chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Tom Winsor, who said the sacking of Crompton was “conspicuously unfair, disproportionate and so unreasonable that I cannot understand how the PCC has reached this view”.

Billings’s suspension and then sacking of Crompton followed severe criticism by families of the case made by South Yorkshire police in the two year-long new inquests into the 1989 disaster, in which 96 people died at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Families and Labour politicians, including the then shadow home secretary Andy Burnham, accused Crompton of seeking to advance original 1989 smears against Liverpool supporters and blame them for the disaster, rather than stand by previous admissions of police fault.

The inquests coroner, Sir John Goldring, in October 2014 rejected an application by the families for the force’s admissions and apologies to be put before the jury. At the conclusion of the inquests, the jury determined that the 96 people were unlawfully killed due to gross negligence manslaughter by the police officer in command at the match, Ch Supt David Duckenfield, and that no behaviour of football supporters contributed to the disaster.

After the verdicts, Crompton issued a statement in which he fully accepted the findings of the jury and apologised for the police failures. In response to the criticism which followed the verdicts, he issued a second statement on 27 April, which explained that while South Yorkshire police accepted their culpability for the disaster, their failures had to be put in the context of “other contributory factors”.

Although in media interviews Billings had suggested he sacked Crompton for the conduct of the inquests, in fact it was for the press statement, arguing it implied the force was still failing to take responsibility.

The legal process since has revealed that Crompton consulted Billings about the statement before he issued it, but Billings refused to look at it, saying he did not want any statement to be made at all.

Garnham described that approach as “surprising in the extreme” and “a serious error”, saying Billings should have worked collaboratively with Crompton on the response.

Crompton, who argued he conducted the police case at the inquests responsibly and responded to the verdicts reasonably, strongly criticised Billings after winning the judicial review.

“Dr Billings has spent a huge amount of public money trying to defend actions which he was advised in the strongest terms not to pursue by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary,” Crompton said. “This money would have been better spent on operational policing … The judgment, which is damning, speaks for itself.”

Crompton was due to retire anyway in November last year and was not seeking reinstatement. He could now be entitled to financial compensation, but is understood not to have commenced any proceedings yet.