Sir Norman Bettison has denied telling a man in a pub that South Yorkshire Police would try to ‘concoct a story that all of the Liverpool fans were drunk’, the inquests into the Hillsborough tragedy has heard.
A month after the April 1989 disaster, the former chief constable of West Yorkshire and Merseyside police forces was said to have made the comment to a civil servant in the Fleur de Lys pub in Sheffield.
John Barry said he and Sir Norman, a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the time, were among a group of people who would go to the pub following a business course they both attended.
Mr Barry told the jury sitting in Warrington, Cheshire, that both had just got a pint and moved away from the bar when Sir Norman told him: “I have been asked by my senior officers to pull together this South Yorkshire Police evidence for the (Taylor) inquiry and we are going to try to concoct a story that all of the Liverpool fans were drunk, and that we were afraid they were going to break down the gates so we decided to open them.”
The court also heard from another course student Mark Ellaby.
Mr Ellaby said he recalled a separate pub conversation on the topic of the Hillsborough disaster involving Sir Norman and other students.
He said: “I remember Mr Bettison saying that he’d just been seconded to an internal team in South Yorkshire Police who were tasked with making sure that South Yorkshire Police bore no blame for the Hillsborough disaster and it was all the fault of the drunken Liverpool supporters.”
He added: “I remember him going to lengths to say that South Yorkshire Police held no sort of responsibility for what happened.”
Mr Ellaby said the remarks were made within a general discussion about the disaster.
He said: “I think we were just a bit sort of surprised he said what he did, really.
“I was definitely left with the conclusion that it was an internal group around covering up the role that South Yorkshire Police had in the Hillsborough tragedy.
“Whether he explicitly said that I can’t remember, but it was certainly implied.”
But Sir Norman said their recollections were not accurate and he would not have said ‘anything like’ a story about drunken supporters would be concocted.
He said he had gone to the pub with other students on April 17, two days after the disaster.
He said: “I can recall two or three things in the conversation, the first is that there were an awful lot of people in the conversation who didn’t know the correction to the lie about the opening of the gate, and I can recall that I talked about that being definitely under police direction.
“As has been fairly described by Mr Ellaby, there was a wide-ranging debate, pretty much without sufficient knowledge and understanding, but there was a debate going on around the room about the potential causes of the disaster, and I recall that there were people in the conversation who had extreme views about football fans in general and football fans on this occasion.”
He added: “I did offer the view that there may be a reason why the gate needed to be opened.”
But Sir Norman said he would not have made the comments ascribed to him.
He said: “What I do remember is that I was, when I was attending the course, not only attending as a student, but as a professional police officer, and some of the comments that have been ascribed to me I would not make in a private or public situation.”
He said on April 24 he attended the course to explain to students and tutors why he would be missing for the next few weeks, as he had been assigned to a team that would be pulling together the evidence on behalf of South Yorkshire Police.”
Sir Norman said: “I think, and it is quite understandable, that Mr Ellaby’s evidence might have conflated two separate conversations both of which happened, the conversation amongst a group of fellow students on Monday, the 17th, and my announcements here, there and everywhere on the 24th about my impending absence.”
The hearing continues.