Police chief faces watchdog probe

 

A complaint against the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police which emerged following the Hillsborough disclosures has been referred to the police watchdog.

At today's meeting of West Yorkshire Police Authority's Special Committee, its members agreed to record a complaint against the Chief Constable, Sir Norman Bettison, and immediately referred it to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for investigation.

Chairman of the Special Committee, Richard Baldwin, said "A number of factors led to the committee taking the decision to refer the complaint to the IPCC, including the gravity of the subject matter, the wholly exceptional circumstances and a pressing need to maintain public confidence in both policing governance and the police complaints system.

"It is important that the facts are fully established and evidence considered from other sources before any further decisions are taken.

"The IPCC, as an independent body with a statutory duty to uphold the police complaints system, is best placed to conduct such investigations."

Yesterday Sir Norman was forced to apologise for any upset caused by his statement that Liverpool fans' behaviour made policing at the Hillsborough tragedy "harder than it needed to be".

He said his role was never to "besmirch" the fans and said the Reds' supporters were in no way to blame for the disaster.

The chief constable said he was "deeply sorry that impression and slight has lingered for 23 years".

Sir Norman was an off-duty South Yorkshire Police inspector when he attended the game and was involved in an internal inquiry held by the force in its aftermath.

On Thursday he denied any wrongdoing but sparked fury with his comments, which led to calls for him to resign.

Asked by ITV News yesterday if he was part of a "black operations unit" to smear the fans, Sir Norman said: "No not at all, there wasn't a black ops unit. I wasn't part of it. I was part of a team trying to put together the facts in a concentrated time period for my chief constable."

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the BBC he could see why people were "livid" about Sir Norman's previous statement.

"I think his comments were ill-judged and insensitive," the Liberal Democrat leader said.

"If I was a family on Liverpool, Merseyside, of someone who died on that day, I would be livid."

The damning Hillsborough Independent Panel report revealed a cover-up took place to shift the blame on to the victims and that 41 of the 96 lives lost at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989, could have been saved.

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

Reviews have been ordered by police authorities in West Yorkshire, into the actions of Sir Norman, and West Midlands, which also conducted an investigation into the disaster.

South Yorkshire Police, which still employs 195 officers who were on duty at the ground on the day of the tragedy, said the force would refer itself to police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Chief constable David Crompton said South Yorkshire Police would consider asking the IPCC whether those involved in the Hillsborough tragedy should face manslaughter investigations.

Mr Crompton said the force was looking into a number of issues to refer to the watchdog, including corporate manslaughter, manslaughter and misconduct in public office.

Trevor Hicks, from Keighley, West Yorkshire, who lost daughters Vicky, 15, and Sarah, 19, in the tragedy, said the families would not speculate on what charges should be brought before they had reviewed the evidence.

He said many of the families were "only just beginning" to start looking at the 400,000 documents now the enormity of Wednesday's disclosures was sinking in.

In a statement Sir Norman said he was pleased to have the matter investigated.

"I welcome this step," he said.

"I spoke with the Chief Executive of the Police Authority this morning and told him I would be pleased to see the Authority take this action.

"It is time this moved into a more formal and legal inquiry, where it can be considered, analysed and fully assessed."

PA

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