1989 Hillsborough disaster inquiry ‘not told of police failures’

Sir Norman Bettison leaves after giving evidence at the Hillsborough inquest in Warrington
Sir Norman Bettison leaves after giving evidence at the Hillsborough inquest in Warrington
Share this article
Have your say

‘Serious failures’ of police conduct at Hillsborough highlighted by ex-police chief Sir Norman Bettison were not presented to an inquiry into the 1989 disaster, a jury has heard.

In his role as “liaison man” for South Yorkshire Police (SYP) at the Taylor Inquiry, he wrote an analysis of the evidence heard for the force’s lead barrister, which included a number of “potential criticisms” of the force.

But none of the criticisms – which Sir Norman said were ‘difficult to counter’ - made their way into SYP’s final submissions to Lord Justice Taylor which accepted no blame whatsoever for the tragedy

The then chief inspector had pointed out that there had been no contingency plan in dealing with the circumstances which arose at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s ground before the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Overcrowding outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles led to an exit gate being opened on the instructions of match commander David Duckenfield and a significant number of the 2,000 fans who entered headed for the central pens of the terrace which led to the fatal crushing of 96 Liverpool fans.

Paul Greaney QC, representing the Police Federation, asked Sir Norman: “Do you agree that you were highlighting serious failures on the part of the police?”

Sir Norman replied: “I think collectively they added up to a serious failure.”

He agreed that the ‘most serious’ failure he identified was that nothing was done to monitor the movement of fans inside the ground once exit Gate C was opened.

The jury at the inquests into the 96 deaths, sitting in Warrington, was told by Sir Norman that he played no part in SYP’s final submissions made by lead counsel William Woodward QC.

Mr Greaney said: “Is it your view that you could have done any more to ensure that there was a proper reflection in Mr Woodward’s submissions of these failures?”

Sir Norman said: “No. In short I was not a decision-maker in any way with strategy in relation to submissions or indeed the South Yorkshire Police case.”

Mr Greaney asked: “Would you have hoped that there would have been acknowledgment of those failures in those submissions?”

The witness replied: “I think my reflection from 26 years ago is that I anticipated that there might have been.”

Sir Norman, a former chief constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire police forces, was accused of being part of a cover-up years later following the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report in 2012 which led to the quashing of the original inquest verdicts.

The jury has heard he was part of a team that gathered evidence for SYP’s response to the tragedy for the subsequent Taylor Inquiry - a team which allegedly was ordered to place the blame on Liverpool fans.

Sir Norman denies the allegation.

Following the publication of the panel report, Sir Norman issued a statement in which he said: “My role was never to besmirch the fans. I did not do that. I am deeply sorry that that impression and slight has lingered for 23 years.”

Mr Greaney asked: “Does that continue to be your position?”

Sir Norman replied: “Absolutely.”

Following the completion of his evidence the jury went on to hear from expert witness, David Whitmore, who has analysed South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Services’s planning for the semi-final and its response to the emergency.

Mr Whitmore said he believed a major incident should have been declared at the ground no later than 3.06pm when the match was stopped.

Moments before, the jury has heard, ambulance officer Paul Eason was sent with a colleague to the Leppings Lane end of the ground to investigate what they thought was a disturbance.

Mr Eason told the jury last December that he did not look into the pens and did not speak to anyone to find out what the problem was.

He confessed that his ‘biggest mistake was in presuming that it was something that it was not’ as he took cues from police and other people who did not appear to be concerned.

Mr Whitmore said he felt Mr Eason’s response fell below the standards of a reasonably competent ambulance officer.

He said the officer should have been aware by 3.06pm that there was a major incident and the nature of it was a crush.

At 3.08pm there was a logged request from police to ambulance control for a fleet of ambulances, the court has heard.

The message said: “A fleet of ambulances, a fleet of ambulances, all ambulances you’ve got available.”

The response was: “We can’t respond by dispatching a fleet of ambulances. We must await those on the scene to report back.”

Mr Whitmore said he would have expected ‘a different response’ with more questioning about what had been requested.

At 3.23pm deputy chief ambulance officer Alan Hopkins arrived at the stadium and became the most senior officer on site.

Describing what his role should have been, Mr Whitmore said: “His job is to quickly understand what has been done so far. To decide whether that is a plan that should continue and then also to make a very difficult decision, if the plan is not to continue, how they are going to change that.

“He needs to understand exactly the scale of what is occurring and if anything has been missed.”

Mr Whitmore said he would have expected Mr Hopkins to have immediately liaised with the senior police and fire officers and establish the need to prioritise casualties.

The jury has heard evidence that officers in the police control box tried to make contact with Mr Hopkins but were unable to do so.

The expert said the ambulance service’s general major incident plan, drafted in 1985, was ‘bare bones’.

He said: “It did cover the general, very general, principles but unfortunately it did not have very much substance behind that to truly inform anybody who actually had to use that plan in action.”

Counsel to the inquest Christina Lambert QC asked: “Was it a functional document?”

Mr Whitmore replied: “Just, yes.”