It has emerged in a report carried by the i newspaper that the police force charged with ensuring public safety on the occasion of the Hillsborough Disaster kept money found among the dead and dying, choosing to pay the amount found into the police bank account after they’d held it for a period of three years, rather than donating the sum to the disaster fund which had been set up to help victims and the bereaved. The sum? £14.53.
It’s perhaps because of the paltry amount involved, rather than in spite of it, that this is such a shocking story. A full three years passed before the casual decision was made – without objection or reservation – to pay the money into the police account. The cash was made up of loose change gathered from among the bodies of the dead and dying in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and it appeared as part of an inventory detailed in a memorandum dated January 1992, which also recorded the decision to bank the money.
In the midst of all the other negative findings about the conduct of the police at several levels that day, and in the light of the fact that they appeared complicit in the lies that were spread in the days and weeks after Hillsborough – notably by the Sun newspaper – the amount of £14.53 seems trifling enough. And yet, understandably, the impact felt by the families of the victims at this unsavoury incident is likely to be out of all proportion to the actual size of the cash amount involved.
Only last month, it was reported that South Yorkshire Police attempted to apply to the disaster fund for a sum running into thousands, earmarked for the provision of microwaves, gym equipment and a holiday home for police use. In conjunction with this new revelation about the fate of loose change picked up from among the dead, it really does beg the question of exactly what motivates those who make decisions like this, and what level of awareness they have of public opinion in such sensitive matters relating to a disaster that continues to reverberate almost a quarter of a century on.
If there is anybody in a position of authority in the police organisation with the slightest trace of decency, honour and plain good taste, then they will take a look at this latest disgrace, take careful note of the sum of £14.53, multiply it by one thousand – and donate that amount into the Hillsborough Disaster Fund. That may still be a case of too little, too late – but better late than never and surely – surely – some gesture now needs to be made in the face of what has been nothing more or less than a 24 year public relations disaster for the South Yorkshire Police.
RIP The 96.