Protests at police chief's disaster link

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The Independent Online
THE APPOINTMENT of the new chief constable for Merseyside was condemned yesterday as "insensitive and unacceptable", because of his links with the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 people died.

Norman Bettison last night spoke publicly for the first time since his appointment following a seven-hour meeting with the police-authority members who decided to reaffirm their decision to appoint him - despite fierce opposition from the families of the victims.

Mr Bettison, who was chief inspector on a South Yorkshire Police unit set up in the aftermath of the tragedy, was jeered by relatives of Hillsborough victims as he left the chamber.

"The Hillsborough disaster was a devastating event and the aftershocks have continued," he said.

"The relatives who were bereaved and the young spectators who were injured in the tragedy have my sympathy. They have had my sympathy for nine and a half years. They will have my sympathy for ever."

A campaign group has presented the authority with a petition containing 15,000 signatures arguing that they do not want Mr Bettison to take charge because of the part he played in the aftermath of the tragedy in 1989 at the Sheffield Wednesday football ground.

The nine-member Merseyside Police Authority voted unanimously for Mr Bettison to replace the current chief constable, Sir James Sharples, on 16 November.

But families of the Hillsborough victims have called on Mr Bettison not to take the job and have demanded the resignation of police authority members who appointed him while knowing about his past.

Some relatives shouted as he left the building last night, "you cannot command respect on Merseyside Mr Bettison and you will never get it".

Trevor Hicks, chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose two daughters died in the disaster, had earlier told the authority meeting that the Lord Justice Taylor interim report had criticised the South Yorkshire force for being unprepared to concede that they were at fault for what happened.

He said: "Our case quite simply is that Mr Bettison was an active member of [a] team [that] was involved in attempting to shift the blame from South Yorkshire Police very much on to the people he wants to represent. You have made an insensitive and unacceptable decision. You appear to be out of touch with the people you represent."

Kevin Robinson, of the Hillsborough Relatives, Survivors and Supporters for Justice campaign, told the committee: "We are asking for the nine people who appointed Mr Bettison to resign and we are asking Mr Bettison to do likewise."

Two of the appointment panel, Dave Martin and Frank Prendergast, insist they never saw a document from Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary which outlined Mr Bettison's role in the unit.