Police chief resigns over Hillsborough

Wed, Oct 24, 2012, 01:00

West Yorkshire Police chief constable Sir Norman Bettison tendered his resignation today ahead of a meeting scheduled to consider his role in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, which he investigated for South Yorkshire Police.

Sir Norman has been under growing pressure since the Hillsborough Independent Panel report was published and he is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

In a statement issued through the West Yorkshire police authority, Sir Norman said he had never blamed the fans for the tragedy. Sir Norman said: “First, and foremost, the Hillsborough tragedy 23 years ago left 96 families bereaved and countless others injured and affected by it.

“I have always felt the deepest compassion and sympathy for the families, and I recognise their longing to understand exactly what happened on that April afternoon. I have never blamed the fans for causing the tragedy.”

Sir Norman dismissed reports of a conversation he had in a pub in which he allegedly said he was “concocting” a story for South Yorkshire Police.

He said: “The suggestion that I would say to a passing acquaintance that I was deployed as part of a team tasked to ‘concoct a false story of what happened’, is both incredible and wrong. That isn’t what I was tasked to do, and I did not say that.”

Sir Norman said the police authority and some of the candidates in the forthcoming Police Complaints Commission elections made it clear that they wanted him to go.

“I do so, not because of any allegations about the past, but because I share the view that this has become a distraction to policing in West Yorkshire now and in the future.”

Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, welcomed the announcement but said Sir Norman’s pension should be frozen while the investigation takes place into the police cover-up highlighted by the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

Ms Aspinall, who lost her 18-year-old son James in the disaster, said the families had “no vendetta” against the former chief constable. “He’s not the only one who we believe took part in this cover-up. But as a senior officer he should have been honest from the very beginning,” she said. “He allowed the families to suffer for 23 years while knowing the truth all along.”

Sir Norman’s decision comes two days after Merseyside MP Maria Eagle told the Commons about the claim the chief constable had bragged of “concocting” a story about Hillsborough. She read from a letter sent by retired civil servant John Barry, who later repeated his allegations in TV interviews.

Mr Barry said: “Norman Bettison stood opposite me and said: ‘I’ve been asked by senior officers to pull together the South Yorkshire Police evidence of the public inquiry and we’re going to try and concoct a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk and that we were afraid they were going to force down the gates, so we decided to open them’.

“I was absolutely astounded. He knew I’d been there. I was in the seats immediately above where people were being crushed and people were dying. I was astounded he said this to me.”

Mr Barry said Sir Norman made the comments in a Sheffield pub when they were both part-time students.

PA