Hillsborough inquests: Families angry as retired police told 'be proud'

St George's Plateau Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tributes have been laid at St George's Hall the inquests ended

Hillsborough families have expressed anger after retired South Yorkshire police officers were told to be proud of their work, despite the inquests' conclusions.

A message on a website for the force's retired officers said they had served dedicated and courageous careers.

The force's current chief constable was suspended on Wednesday because of the approach the force took to the inquest.

Louise Brookes, whose brother Andrew died, has criticised the force.

The message on the website of the South Yorkshire branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers (Narpo) was made public by accident.

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The comments were later removed, and Narpo's South Yorkshire secretary Rick Naylor said they had not been intended for public consumption and were not designed to offend.

Among the comments, the message contained a reference to the way the force had captured the Yorkshire Ripper.

Ms Brookes said: "Where I get very angry is when my brother most needed the police's help, they literally turned their backs on him."

She said her father's dying words just days before the new inquests began in 2014 were: "Please don't ever give up fighting until you get the truth and justice for Andy.

Image copyright AC7
Image caption Andrew Brookes was one of 96 people killed during a fatal crush at the Hillsborough ground

"He squeezed my hand three times and died," she said. "His last thoughts were Hillsborough and the inquests."

The statement by the retired officers said they were "proud" 200 of them had co-operated with the proceedings.

After hearing more than two years of evidence, jurors concluded the 96 victims of the disaster were unlawfully killed and there were police failings.

They found Liverpool fans were not to blame for what happened.

'Misery and heartache'

Ms Brookes continued: "No police officer has ever lost one day's pay because of Hillsborough."

She said her father had suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the disaster and she found it "offensive" that officers accused the families of lying and "prolonged their agony, misery and heartache."

Barry Devonside, whose 18-year-old son Christopher died in the disaster, has also reacted to Mr Naylor's comments.

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Media captionChief Constable David Crompton says the police "unequivocally accept" the findings

He replied: "He's kidding himself. I saw police officers endeavouring to give mouth-to-mouth or CPR and those people were excellent.

"But the sad thing is there were only a few, maybe on two hands you could count them.

"There were over 200 police officers walking around that pitch aimlessly. No direction, no leadership."

In a previous message which remains on Narpo's website, Mr Naylor said former officers had "great sympathy" for the families and friends of the victims killed.

"Mistakes were made and we would all like to turn the clock back," he wrote.

Despite criticism of the force in the wake of the jury's conclusions, his message said 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".

Mr Naylor said the group had tried to remain dignified while "bile and hatred" was directed towards the force.

He said South Yorkshire Police had faced "immense challenges" in the 1980s, including Hillsborough and the Miners' Dispute.

"Along the way we caught the Yorkshire Ripper!" he wrote.

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Media captionPolice and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings: "I've reached this decision with a heavy heart"

"You will be feeling sore, angry and disheartened, but you did a good job - we all did," he added.

Michael Mansfield QC, who represented many of the Hillsborough families, said: "Scratch the surface then and now the mindset has not changed.

"This involves a belief that corporate identity and power has to be maintained at all costs against perceived enemies of the state.

"From day one in Hillsborough right up to now public statements belie a persistent and tenacious attempt to defend the indefensible - to blame Liverpool fans one way or another.

"This has to stop. Humble acceptance must prevail."

What happened at Hillsborough?

Analysis: Dan Johnson, BBC reporter

These comments may have been intended to privately lift morale amongst retired officers after another bruising week for all connected with South Yorkshire Police.

But some see the remarks as further evidence that police officers still don't accept the failures over Hillsborough.

I've spoken to former officers over the last few days who are angry that the lack of command and attempts to shift the blame from their superiors have overshadowed efforts many made to save lives in terrible circumstances that day.

There is recognition that many officers tried to do their best, but these comments have caused further upset.

There are also officers in South Yorkshire today who have to get on with a difficult job while their organisation is in turmoil. Some won't have been born when the disaster happened.

The force is dogged by the scandals of its past failures and moving on will be not be easy.

Mr Naylor was a co-signatory on a later press statement by the retired officers group, which said that many of the force's former officers - some of them elderly and in failing health - had voluntarily travelled to Warrington to give evidence at the inquests.

Many of them had also made statements to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and Operation Resolve, a criminal investigation into the disaster, the statement added.

"This was completely voluntary as there was no legal obligation to submit themselves for interview."

Jurors at the inquests pinpointed police failures before and after the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

On Tuesday, after their conclusions were delivered, chief constable David Crompton admitted the policing of the match was "catastrophically wrong" and "unequivocally" accepted the findings.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Match commander David Duckenfield was "responsible for manslaughter by gross negligence" due to a breach of his duty of care, jurors concluded

The next day, the force's Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said there had been an "erosion of trust" and he had no choice but to suspend Mr Crompton.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham accused the force of "retelling discredited lies" during the inquests.

The MP, who has backed the campaign for justice for the Hillsborough victims, said lawyers representing retired officers "threw disgusting slurs" about victims in court.

Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram said the comments were "totally insensitive".

"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 the Liverpool fans," he said.

He added that there needed to be "a period of deep soul-searching" in the force.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Tributes were laid at St George's Hall on Wednesday as thousands attended a vigil

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett insisted the people of South Yorkshire must not be "penalised" in the pursuit of justice over Hillsborough.

Lord Blunkett, former Sheffield Brightside MP, said the South Yorkshire force was facing budget cuts and there was a danger of "demoralisation".

"In the rank and file, the real challenge is to re-motivate, to lead them clearly into delivering an acceptable service, he said.

"The people of South Yorkshire were not responsible for the disaster in 1989. [They] should not be at the receiving end of a reduced police service."

Families of those who died have called for criminal prosecutions to follow the hearings.

Two ongoing investigations into the disaster and its aftermath could finish by the end of this year.

A police inquiry is looking at the lead-up to the crush on the day of the match, while a separate inquiry by the IPCC is investigating allegations of a cover-up.