Norman Bettison accuses South Yorkshire Police of prolonging stolen goods investigation over Hillsborough 'backlash' fears

Sir Norman Bettison has accused his former employer South Yorkshire Police of unnecessarily prolonging an investigation into an allegation that he tried to sell stolen platinum because it was "fearful of a backlash" in the aftermath of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report.

Thursday, 17th November 2016, 6:21 pm
Updated Friday, 18th November 2016, 11:22 am
Norman Bettison

Following an investigation by Derbyshire Police which ended in 2013, the Rotherham-born former chief constable was found to have no case to answer over a claim that he was involved in the sale of platinum wire to a Sheffield firm.

South Yorkshire Police, which had asked the Derbyshire force to look into the claim, then decided to refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for a second opinion. The CPS announced the following year that there was "insufficient evidence to prosecute".

Sir Norman, who has never previously commented publicly about the claims, has devoted two pages to describing the investigation in his new controversial book Hillsborough Untold: Aftermath of a Disaster.

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Its publication has been criticised by families of the Hillsborough victims, particularly because of its timing just a few weeks before prosecutors consider whether he was part of a criminal conspiracy to shift blame onto Liverpool fans after the disaster.

He claims his former employer South Yorkshire Police was "fearful of a backlash" if it had closed down the platinum investigation after Derbyshire Police's report, because of the political climate after the publication of the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report.

But the former West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable has now come under fire from an MP over his description of the former South Yorkshire Police officer whose allegations prompted the investigation as "vindictive" and "dishonest".

In the chapter In The Shadow of Salem, a reference to the witch trials of the 17th century, Sir Norman describes being "caught up in a witch hunt" after the publication of the 2012 report which revealed efforts by police to blame Liverpool fans for the tragedy.

He said that in the four years after this, "numerous allegations have been raised that I may have conspired with others to pervert the course of justice in all manner of proceedings".

Sir Norman wrote: "There was a particularly nasty historical aspersion cast about the integrity of my father. My dad, the most honest man I have known, sold a small amount of platinum swarf in 1987, which he cleared out of my deceased grandfather's workshop.

"Grandad had collected the filings in an old snuff tin and I was with my father when he sold it for about £100 at a reputable precious metal dealer. The precious metal dealer had a protocol with the local police to report all sales from private individuals.

"My father's possession was enquired into and the inquiry was immediately closed. End of story."

He claimed that a "vindictive former police officer, himself sacked for dishonesty and sent to prison", shared the allegation with Labour MP John Mann, who appeared in the media and demanded the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigate.

The story was revealed by The Yorkshire Post in 2012, after a retired officer said Sir Norman and another man were recorded on CCTV attempting to sell a “large quantity” of stolen platinum wire.

The retired officer said his former colleagues gathered evidence against both men at the time, but says no action was ever taken after it was referred up the chain in South Yorkshire Police. The force said at the time that despite extensive checks it had no record of any investigation.

Responding to the claims, Mr Mann said Sir Norman was mistaken about the identity of the officer whose allegations prompted the investigation.

He said: "His character assassination on an unnamed South Yorkshire police officer may well come back to bite Bettison.

"If he has knowledge of the source of the allegations then this can only have come through a criminal leak from within the police.

"If he has guessed wrongly at the source, which I strongly suspect, then he has launched an unwarranted and vicious attack on the wrong person and that has consequences. I will be pressing the IPCC on this matter."

Describing the investigation in his book, Sir Norman said: "Even the IPCC, on this occasion, could not see any merit in taking this further. South Yorkshire Police, on the other hand, found themselves in a tricky bind.

"Mr Mann's accusations were of a historic South Yorkshire Police cover-up and so, in the current climate, they did not want to be seen to ignore the complaint, however far-fetched. Particularly as it came from an MP.

"South Yorkshire Police asked Derbyshire Police to investigate the matter, which they did with scrupulous attention, diverting valuable resources away from the protection of the people of Derbyshire.

"The investigators, over a number of months, traced and interviewed 51 witnesses. They recommended that there were no offences disclosed from their investigations.

"South Yorkshire Police, fearful of any backlash, still felt unable to accept that recommendation and closed down the investigation on their own authority.

"They sent all the papers to the CPS asking that they instead make the final decision on the matter.

"The head of CPS for South and West Yorkshire was an acquaintance of mine after our years of working in partnership to reform the criminal justice system locally.

"He therefore sent the file to another CPS region for independent review."

South Yorkshire Police declined to comment, while Sir Norman declined to comment on Mr Mann's claims.