Hillsborough: Sir Norman Bettison announces his retirement

 

Sir Norman Bettison is to retire as Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police after controversy over his role in the Hillsborough tragedy.

A complaint was made to police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) that he had supplied misleading information in the wake of the disaster.

Sir Norman said in a statement: "Recent weeks have caused me to reflect on what is best for the future of policing in West Yorkshire and I have now decided to set a firm date for my retirement of 31 March 2013."

The IPCC also said that there was a second element to the referral, which related to a statement Sir Norman made in September following the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

In the statement, Sir Norman said the Liverpool fans' behaviour made policing the tragedy in 1989 "harder than it needed to be".

His comments sparked fury, and led to calls for him to resign.

Sir Norman responded with an apology and said his role was never to "besmirch" the fans and added that the Liverpool supporters were in no way to blame for the disaster.

Sir Norman was a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police in 1989 but was off duty on April 15 and went to the match as a spectator.

Later, he was involved in an internal inquiry held by the force in the aftermath of the tragedy.

He has denied any wrongdoing in relation to the disaster.

Questions about Sir Norman's role in the investigation of the tragedy have dogged him as he has risen through the higher ranks of the police - most notably when there were protests from the families of those who died when he became chief constable of Merseyside in 1998.

In a message posted on the West Yorkshire Police website, Sir Norman said he hoped his departure would assist the IPCC in its inquiry.

He said: "I hope it will enable the Independent Police Complaints Commission to fully investigate allegations that have been raised about my integrity. They need to be fairly and fully investigated and I welcome this independent and formal scrutiny."

The former chief constable of Merseyside had refused to leave his post after the publication of a damning report on the Hillsborough disaster.

It laid bare a shocking cover-up which attempted to shift the blame on to its 96 victims.

The inquiry found that 164 police statements were altered, 116 of them to remove or alter "unfavourable" comments about the policing of the match and the unfolding disaster.

Sir Norman previously defended his role in the aftermath of April 15 1989, saying: "I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered."

He also said: "I really welcome the disclosure of all the facts that can be known about the Hillsborough tragedy because I have absolutely nothing to hide."

Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son Kevin died on the Leppings Lane terrace, said the findings of the recent report left Sir Norman with no choice but to retire.

She said: "I think the whole lot of them who have been involved for these 23 years should all go for the hurt that they have caused us for 23 years.

"I don't think he would have retired if it wasn't for the Hillsborough report."

Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers said: "Sir Norman Bettison has served the public as a police officer with distinction for nearly 40 years, and at the rank of chief constable since 1998.

"At the national level he has made an outstanding contribution to the work of the police service as a whole in cutting crime and keeping the public safe. He has led in a number of national areas such as the development of neighbourhood policing and the police approach to preventing terrorism and violent extremism.

"His depth of knowledge and experience is highly regarded within the service and he will be a great loss to policing."

Margaret Aspinall's 18-year-old son James died in the tragedy.

The chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group said: "Obviously I'm very very pleased. I'm absolutely delighted that he's going.

"But then, he'll be going on his full pension, and I'd like to know the full reasons why he's choosing to retire as soon as this."

She went on: "Why didn't he stay, then, until the IPCC came out with their investigation?

"But he's decided to leave. I'm not arguing against it, because I'm thrilled that he is going, but if he's got nothing to hide, why is he retiring?

"The man has got something to worry about."

She added: "I was so angered when he was made Chief Constable of Merseyside."

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