THE police watchdog has slammed a former South Yorkshire officer for his actions following the publication of an independent report into the Hillsborough disaster.
Sir Norman Bettison, who was a Chief Inspector with South Yorkshire Police when Liverpool fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough football stadium in April 1989, would have a case to answer for gross misconduct if he was still a serving officer, the watchdog has ruled.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission has concluded that Sir Norman, who retired from his position as Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police last year, attempted to influence public perception as the West Yorkshire Police Authority was deciding whether to refer him to the watchdog following the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report last year.
The panel’s report looked at hundreds of thousands of documents held by organisations since the day when scores of fans were crushed to death on the terraces.
Sir Norman was a spectator at the match on the day and was involved in a force-wide cover up aimed at shifting blame for the tragedy from South Yorkshire Police to the fans.
The IPCC said today: “While it was evident Sir Norman made no attempt to prevent the referral happening, the IPCC investigation concluded that he attempted to manipulate the public perception of the referral process for his own self-interest.”
The commission said its finding would justify Sir Norman’s dismissal if he was still a serving Chief Constable.
The IPCC said it independently investigated his actions in relation to the process by which complaints about his involvement in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster were referred to the commission.
The former chief, who has always denied any wrongdoing, resigned from his post in West Yorkshire last year.
The watchdog added: “The IPCC concluded Sir Norman had a case to answer for discreditable conduct and abuse of authority, breaches which, if proven in a disciplinary hearing, would amount to gross misconduct as they would justify dismissal.
“However, as Sir Norman left the police service in October 2012 he cannot face a disciplinary hearing in which the evidence could be tested. Instead, the IPCC is publishing its findings for the public to judge.”
An investigation into Sir Norman’s conduct in the period following the 1989 disaster, when he was involved in South Yorkshire Police’s inquiry into what happened, is ongoing.
IPCC deputy chair Deborah Glass said: “The Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath have become synonymous in the public consciousness with allegations of police attempts to cover up the truth, manipulate messages and deflect blame. Sir Norman is facing investigation in relation to allegations that he played a key part in this.
“We do not pre-judge the findings of that investigation. However, given the effect that those allegations have had on the public perception of him and policing generally, his attempts to manipulate and manage the perception of the referral of complaints about him, for his own self-interest, is particularly concerning. It is also conduct that falls far short of what should be expected of any chief constable.”