At the conclusion of a lengthy statutory process, the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, has made his decision to call for Chief Constable David Crompton to resign, with immediate effect.
Mr Crompton was suspended by the Police and Crime Commissioner on 27 April this year, following a statement he made the day after the jury gave its verdicts at the end of the Hillsborough inquests.
On 26 April, the jury concluded that the 96 who died at Hillsborough were unlawfully killed and the football supporters did not cause or contribute to their deaths. The Chief Constable apologised on behalf of the force. Those who heard the apology thought it was not only for what had happened in the past but also for questions that were asked by the Chief Constable’s legal team at the inquests which touched on fan behaviour and caused the families distress.
However, the statement the following day sought to justify the questioning. It was heard as an attempt to shift blame to others and this undermined the integrity of the apology. It brought immediate criticism of the Chief Constable both locally and nationally.
The suspension was made to consider a proposal to remove the Chief Constable under Section 38 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. The statutory process required the Commissioner to seek and consider the views of HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, the Chief Constable and the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, before making his decision.
The Police and Crime Panel held a private scrutiny meeting in Rotherham Town Hall on Friday 16 September. They considered written submissions from the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Chief Constable and HM Chief Inspector, as well as hearing directly from the Commissioner and the Chief Constable. The Panel gave unanimous support to Dr Billings’ proposal in their detailed recommendation.
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “After careful consideration of all the views and correspondence I have received, I have decided that I should accept the Police and Crime Panel’s recommendation and should call on the Chief Constable to resign with immediate effect. This is due to the erosion of trust and confidence in his leadership which would have continued and intensified as long as he remained in post. This would not have been in the interests of South Yorkshire police or people.
“When I first became Police and Crime Commissioner in November 2014, South Yorkshire Police were already under considerable national as well as local scrutiny because of Child Sexual Exploitation issues in Rotherham. Child Sexual Exploitation and Hillsborough were an absolute priority for me and a standing item in my regular meetings with the Chief Constable.
“At those meetings the Chief Constable assured me that no questions were being asked by his legal team at the inquests that upset the bereaved families. He said that the families made a distinction between his legal team and those representing other officers, who at times had asked questions that caused upset to the families.
“I had no reason to disbelieve any of this, until March of this year, when I was told by the Chief Constable that lawyers for the families had made submissions to the Coroner about the conduct of his legal team – something that could not be made public at the time. After the verdicts were announced I was also contacted by family members who expressed their anger and sadness at some of the questions put by the Chief Constable’s lawyers.
“In the days leading up to the verdicts, South Yorkshire MPs, local councillors and members of the public told me that they believed the situation was perilous for the Force. MPs expressed concern that the conduct of the Chief Constable’s legal team had caused distress to the families, had prolonged the inquests and added to the costs. I was fearful that not even a full apology would be enough to stop an unrelenting storm of criticism that would damage public trust and confidence.
Realising that, at one point I asked the Chief Constable to consider resigning; to take full responsibility on behalf of the force and make way for new leadership. I thought this would be seen as an act of leadership and accountability. The Chief Constable would not do this.
“Following the announcement of the verdicts the Chief Constable went before the media and read out an apology, though took no questions. The media remained encamped outside police headquarters and the criticism of the Force and the Chief Constable began immediately.
“The next day, despite being informed of my concerns, the Chief Constable issued a second statement, shortly before the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, and Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham, were due to make statements about Hillsborough in the House of Commons.
“The Chief Constable’s statement sought to justify the questions asked at the inquests. This was something that I believed the public had already concluded was wrong.
“The statement drew immediate and continuous criticism in the House of Commons, including from the then Home Secretary who voiced her disappointment at the remarks made by South Yorkshire Police. This caused me considerable alarm because it suggested that the Home Secretary, who was the cabinet minister responsible for policing, was losing faith in the Force.
“Continued criticism in the media and on social media, some calling for a force merger, as well as telephone calls and emails that started to come in from members of the public, added to my concerns.
“I was quite sure that the criticism of the Chief Constable and the Force would have continued and intensified if he had remained in post. This had started to impact on public trust and confidence and that would have continued without decisive action.
“The second statement made clear that the Chief Constable simply could not or would not see that the conduct of his legal team had caused distress to the families and that trying to justify the questioning simply added to that. This was insensitive and it damaged both the Force and the Chief Constable himself. It indicated that the leadership of South Yorkshire Police had not learnt the lessons of past failures, but was still more concerned with its own reputation than harm done to victims. At a time when we are trying to persuade, for example, the 1400 victims of non-recent child sexual exploitation, and their families, to come forward, this sent out the wrong message and was damaging.”
As part of the process Dr Billings received the views of HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary. These views were put into the public domain during the process at a time when Dr Billings was unable to comment publicly.
Dr Billings added: “I do not accept the views made by the Chief Inspector. I do not accept his view that the Chief Constable’s statement was only a matter of poor media management. I think the Chief Inspector was too dismissive of local opinion, including that of elected representatives, and he made little attempt to understand the context in which these matters were playing out in South Yorkshire.
“The Force is trying to recover from its failures over Child Sexual Exploitation. It may soon have to find a way of reaching out to those in the local community who were caught up in the events at Orgreave during the miners’ strike, particularly the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. The Chief Constable’s statement the day after the Hillsborough verdicts were announced, has seriously set back that possibility and this affects many ex-mining communities across this county.
“After the suspension of the Chief Constable, the Interim Chief Constable and I commissioned a Peer Review of the Force with the assistance of the College of Policing. The Peer Review revealed serious failures at a strategic level. These findings came as a shock precisely because HMIC reports had not alerted us to the seriousness of the Force’s weaknesses at a strategic level. This is one reason why I was not persuaded by the Chief Inspector that I should rely on his inspection regime for assessing public confidence rather than my own engagement with South Yorkshire People.
“South Yorkshire Police needs a new start under new leadership. That is why I have made my decision and asked the Chief Constable to resign immediately.”