Hillsborough police chief quits ahead of hearing amid allegations of 'boasts over lies'
15:02 GMT, 24 October 2012
One of Britain's most senior policemen – Sir Norman Bettison – who allegedly 'boasted' about cooking up lies to blame Liverpool fans for the Hillsborough disaster has resigned.
The chief constable of West Yorkshire Police was being urged to quit after devastating allegations about his integrity and had originally said he would leave the force next year.
But he tendered his resignation ahead of a meeting on Wednesday morning which was to consider his role in the aftermath of the 1989 tragedy, which he investigated for South Yorkshire Police.
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Allegations: Merseyside MP Maria Eagle said in
parliament that West Yorkshire Police's chief Sir Norman Bettison
'boasted' about smearing Liverpool fans in 1989 and chose to 'concoct' a
Families of Hillsborough victims were celebrating as they believe Sir Norman had been at the heart of a police cover-up that blamed their loved-ones for causing the deaths of 96 fans.
Sir Norman said he had never blamed the fans for the tragedy and defiantly added: 'There’s nothing I’m ashamed of'.
'First, and foremost, the Hillsborough tragedy 23 years ago left 96 families bereaved and countless others injured and affected by it,' he said.
'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.'
It came after Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle told Parliament Sir Norman revealed a 'plot' to help 'concoct' a false version of events for the tragedy in a pub conversation with a survivor.
He has long been accused of smearing fans in the wake of
Hillsborough, when he was a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police
at the time.
Ms Eagle used
parliamentary privilege, which protects her from being sued for
defamation, to make the allegations which were based on new evidence
from a witness who discussed the disaster with Sir Norman.
Sir Norman dismissed reports of the
conversation saying: '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 PCC elections made it
clear that they wanted him to go.
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
Tragic: Liverpool fans tried to get away from the crush in the stadium in the 1989 tragedy
She said: 'I'm absolutely delighted he's gone but as far as I am concerned he should have been sacked.
'I would now like to know what payments and pension he's going to get.
'Any financial benefits should be frozen until the outcome of the investigation into the cover-up.
'This is not the end of it, the next thing is to make sure his role is properly investigated.'
Mrs 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.'
Maria Eagle, a Labour Merseyside MP, said he had 'always denied any involvement in the dirty tricks campaign' but she alleged he was behind the 'black propaganda' campaign.
She quoted from a letter from John Barry, who was at Hillsborough for the FA Cup semi-final tie that led to the death of 96 Liverpool fans.
Pleased: Chair of the Hillsborough Families Support Group Margaret Aspinall (pictured at Westminster last week) welcomed the news but said Bettison 'is not the only one involved in this cover-up'
The letter, written in 1998 to a solicitor for the Hillsborough Family Support Group, was copied to Ms Eagle in 2009 and she has been given permission to make it public.
Ms Eagle said Mr Barry was studying part-time at Sheffield Business School where one of his fellow students was a 'middle-ranking police officer'.
Mr Barry wrote: 'He told me that he had been asked by his senior officers to put together the South Yorkshire Police evidence for the forthcoming inquiry.
'He said that 'we are trying to concoct a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk and we were afraid that they were going to break down the gates so we decided to open them.'
Ms Eagle said: 'Mr Barry confirmed to me in the covering letter in 2009 that the middle-ranking police officer to whom he referred is Norman Bettison.'
Earlier this month the chief constable said the recent uproar made him 'reflect' on 'what is best for the future of policing' in his force area.
In September he was forced to issue a humiliating apology after saying
Liverpool fans were partly to blame for what happened.
He said his role was never to 'besmirch' the fans and said the Reds' supporters were in no way to blame for the disaster.
Chaos: Thousands spilled onto the turf to avoid the crush that was happening in the stand and for years Liverpool fans were wrongly blamed for the problems
faced calls to resign from the families of victims for criticising
fans' behaviour despite an independent panel clearing them of
Sir Norman, 56,
said he would retire from his 225,000 post on March 31 next year,
despite being recently granted an extension to his contract.
remains to be seen whether he will receive any extra pay off over his
gold-plated public sector pension of up to 150,000 a year.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating Sir Norman's conduct in the aftermath of Hillsborough.
It came as it was revealed more than 1,400 police officers face investigation over the Hillsborough disaster.
The names of 1,444 serving and retired officers have been given to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for its probe into the 1989 tragedy which killed 96 fans.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, revealed the number handed over by South Yorkshire chief constable David Crompton.
Tribute: A man lays flowers at a memorial to the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough disaster. The 1,444 officers face a rpobe from the Independent Police Complaints Commission
He said: 'This is a huge number of names, more than we expected.'
Home Secretary Theresa May said during a debate on the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report which vindicated the fans, that the number pointed to the 'enormity' of the controversy.
She promised that a ‘thorough and wide-ranging’ IPCC probe would focus on ‘potential criminality and police misconduct in respect of police officers, both serving and retired’.
The debate took a dramatic twist when Labour MP Maria Eagle read out a letter from a witness on the day which implicated Sir Norman Bettison, the current chief constable of West Yorkshire, as being part of a conspiracy involving police trying to ‘concoct a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk’.
The allegation – made using parliamentary privilege – could add to the pressure on Sir Norman to be sacked and stripped of his pension, which he is due to receive when he retires in March.
Mrs May said the Government was considering fast-tracking laws to compel police to give evidence to a new investigation by the IPCC watchdog. ‘This includes proposals to require current and ex-police officers who were maybe witnesses to a crime to attend an interview.’
Recent controversies involving newspaper phone hacking and potential sexual abuse had undermined the public’s confidence in police, she said. Mrs May paid tribute to the 96 Hillsborough victims, their families and survivors.
She said: 'Their persistence and indomitability has been an inspiration and I offer them the commitment the Government will do everything in its power to move them from truth to justice.'
VIDEO: Bettison resigns after claims he 'boasted about smearing Liverpool fans'