THE MOST SENIOR serving officer was has been implicated in new claims about the Hillsborough disaster 23 years ago has resigned as chief constable of West Yorkshire Police following allegations and criticism over his role.
Sir Norman Bettison’s resignation has been announced this afternoon amid new claims that he ‘boasted’ of his role in a police-orchestrated smear of Liverpool fans in which he is alleged to have said that Liverpool fans were responsible for the 1989 stadium disaster that killed 96 people.
Bettison has denied any involvement in such a smear and has today refuted that a conversation ever took place where he is alleged to have said that police were going to have to ‘concoct a story that all Liverpool fans were drunk and we were afraid that they were going to break down the gates, so we decided to open them’.
The former South Yorkshire Police officer said today: “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.”
These claims were made under parliamentary privilege by a British Labour Party MP, Maria Eagle, last Monday during a debate on the revelations contained in the Hillsborough Independent Panel report. This report found that the emergency response to the disaster was mishandled and in the aftermath police attempted to cover-up their culpability by smearing Liverpool fans through doctored their statements and press briefings.
In a statement confirming his resignation today, Bettison 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.
Secondly, I refute the report of a conversation 23 years ago. 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.
Thirdly, there is a due process to deal with any allegation through the IPCC and the criminal law. I remain consistent in my desire to assist those enquiries to the full, both now and in the future. These processes should help to separate facts from speculation.
Fourthly, I sought to remain in post to address those allegations. It now appears that that will take some time. The Police Authority, and some of the candidates in the forthcoming PCC elections, have made it clear that they wish me to go sooner. 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.
I have therefore agreed to retire within the statutory notice period. It has been a privilege to serve the public as a Police Officer for more than 40 years and I wish the Force and the Police Service every success for the future.
Bettison, who is under investigation by the police watchdog for his role in the disaster along with hundreds of other former and serving police officers, had been due to retire in March but has now resigned two days after new claims about his role in the disaster.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel report was published last month following the scrutiny of over 450,000 documents pertaining to the disaster and its aftermath.
As well as its main findings, the report also said that in the months following the disaster Bettison presented a 29-minute video that he had culled from 65 hours of CCTV footage. He is said to have presented commentary which described fans as “massively uncooperative” with the meeting also hearing that fans “all came in the last 20 minutes” (before kick off) and “from licensed premises”.
Bettison, who was appointed chief constable of Mersyside Police in the 90s despite much protest, has consistently denied any wrongdoing and says he has ‘nothing to hide’ over his role in Hillsborough and its aftermath.