Bettison referred to police watchdog over Hillsborough conduct

Bettison referred to police watchdog over Hillsborough conduct
By Eurosport

20/09/2012 at 00:58Updated 20/09/2012 at 01:34

West Yorkshire Police Authority has referred its chief constable Sir Norman Bettison to the police watchdog over his alleged conduct following the Hillsborough tragedy and a comment he made last week about Liverpool supporters.

Bettison, then with South Yorkshire Police, was off duty and attending the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground as a fan when the disaster unfolded.

He subsequently assisted South Yorkshire Police's efforts to contain the incident, which saw 96 followers of the Merseyside club lose their lives.

Liverpool supporters have long challenged allegations that they were responsible for what happened and were finally cleared of any blame by the Hillsborough Independent Panel last week.

The report pointed to a concerted effort from the police to cover up their own failings and those of the other emergency services, and prosecutions are expected to follow.

Evidence given by Bettison was at the forefront of the accusations levelled at Liverpool fans and attempts to pin the blame upon them - including the infamous Sun front page headlined 'The Truth', which claimed that fans had urinated on rescue workers and officers and pickpocketed victims.

He operated as part of an internal police review in the days following the tragedy, which has come under heavy fire.

"The IPCC has now received a referral from West Yorkshire Police Authority in relation to complaints against Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison," the IPCC stated.

"This referral, which was received on 18 September 2012, follows complaints from members of the public about two matters: 1) allegations that the Chief Constable, while a serving officer with South Yorkshire Police, was involved in the production and supply of misleading information for the various inquiries that have been undertaken into the Hillsborough disaster; 2) the public statement made by the Chief Constable on 13 September 2012.

"The IPCC is conducting a detailed assessment of the referral to determine how the allegations should be investigated. This assessment is being conducted in parallel with our ongoing review of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report and supporting documentation."

Bettison had said in the wake of the report that he although he accepted Liverpool fans did not cause the tragedy, he believed Reds fans had made policing the event "harder than it needed to be".

"I sat through every single day of the Taylor Inquiry, in the summer of 1989,” Bettison had said. “I learned so much. Taylor was right in saying that the disaster was caused, mainly, through a lack of police control. Fans' behaviour, to the extent that it was relevant at all, made the job of the police, in the crush outside Leppings Lane turnstiles, harder than it needed to be. But it didn't cause the disaster any more than the sunny day that encouraged people to linger outside the stadium as kick off approached.

“I held those views then, I hold them now. I have never, since hearing the Taylor evidence unfold, offered any other interpretation in public or private."

But in a fresh statement 24 hours later, following a public outcry at the comments, Bettison backtracked.

"Let me speak very clearly. The fans of Liverpool Football Club were in no way to blame for the disaster that unfolded at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989," he said.

"I formed this clear view on hearing all the evidence that was presented at the Taylor inquiry, having sat through every day from its beginning, just four weeks after the tragedy, through to its conclusion.

"The evidence was overwhelming. The police failed to control the situation, which ultimately led to the tragic deaths of 96 entirely innocent people.

"I can be no plainer than that and I am sorry if my earlier statement, intended to convey the same message, has caused any further upset.

"My role was never to besmirch the fans. I did not do that.

"I am deeply sorry that impression and slight has lingered for 23 years."

The IPCC statement continued: "We are also aware that reviews of the report are being undertaken by South Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police to determine the officers and conduct that needs to be referred. Both forces are fully aware of our interest in this matter.

"These reviews are parallel and complementary to the consideration by the Attorney General as to whether fresh inquests should be sought.

"We are keenly aware of the public interest in this matter and the understandable concerns the publication of the Panel's report has created. However we must stress that the analysis of the comprehensive documentation disclosed by the Panel will take some weeks to complete."