Riot cash battles revealed

Rioters at Strangeways
Rioters at Strangeways

A WIGAN councillor has broken his silence over political wrangles that dogged policing of the notorious Strangeways riots.

Former Greater Manchester Police Authority chairman Stephen Murphy was speaking as top secret minutes of a meeting led by the then Home Secretary David Waddington laid bare for the first time how ministers considered extreme measures to bring the 25-day siege of the Manchester prison to an end, including calling in the Army.

The siege made international news and brought the city jail to its knees in April 1990.

Police chiefs also spent months locked in a row with the government over a £1.5m bill for the riot, documents reveal. At the height of the operation, 1,379 officers were involved - including 705 containing the prison walls.

Another 491 were on standby, along with GMP’s newly-acquired helicopter - although the force was never called upon to enter the prison.

Home Office memos reveal how, during a meeting with the Home Secretary one month after the siege ended, Police Authority chiefs warned that without government reimbursement they would face no alternative but to cut the force’s manpower.

That, they said, would have a “devastating effect on the fight against crime and the preservation of the peace in Greater Manchester.”

The files, which include dozens of correspondence papers between police and government officials, reveal that the authority was “anxious for early payment” of a total bill of more than £1.5m.

They had passed a resolution the day the disturbance ended seeking to reclaim their costs from government.

But Home Office ministers were only prepared to pay £580,000 for specific duties, including manning a casualty bureau and incident rooms, and holding and escorting inmates - jobs usually carried out by prison officers.

A separate £1m reimbursement claim made under section 15 of the Police Act 1964 was rejected, despite pressure from within the House of Lords.

An internal memo from Mr Waddington said: “Any action taken to restore order during a disturbance or prevent escapes is regarded as squarely within general policing responsibilities.”

Coun Murphy said: “He was a Conservative home secretary and I was the Labour chair of the police authority so it was always difficult in those meetings.

“You knew when you went that they weren’t going to be looking favourably on you. In my mind it was never properly resolved because they never met the full costs.

“There was this massive argument over the £1m. They argued that it was in the normal line of police duty. GMP said this was excessive duty and there were serious implications of that on the police budget.

“We hadn’t budgeted for such extraordinary events and we would have been penalised if we overspent that year.

“We made serious attempts to ensure that we didn’t have to cut back front-line policing but we had to nibble away at bits and pieces of policing across Greater Manchester to draw back that money.”

A month after the riot ended, GMP still had 100 detectives investigating crimes committed during the disorder, and 307 prisoners held in their cells, stretching both the force’s manpower and catering budget.