Top Hillsborough officer Sir Norman Bettison to quit in wake of inflammatory remarks

After recent report, chief still said fans had made policing 'harder than it needed to be'

Sir Norman Bettison is to retire as Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police in the wake of a damning government report on the Hillsborough tragedy.

The announcement was immediately welcomed by families of those killed in the disaster – in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough Stadium in 1989.

Sir Norman, who was a South Yorkshire Police chief inspector at the time and attended the game as a spectator, sparked fury last month following the release of the report when he said Liverpool supporters made policing "harder than it needed to be". He apologised for the comments shortly after, and said Liverpool supporters were in no way to blame for the disaster. Last month, he was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) after complaints that he supplied misleading information to police in the wake of the tragedy. A second part of the referral related to those comments.

Sir Norman said in a statement last night: "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."

"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," he wrote in a message posted on the West Yorkshire Police website.

Sir Norman's retirement comes weeks after the release of a government report into the Hillsborough disaster which revealed that had tried to shift the blame on to the victims. The investigation found that 116 police statements had been altered to remove "unfavourable" comments about the handling of the disaster by police.

Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the tragedy, said she was "thrilled" to hear that Sir Norman was retiring. 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."

Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son Kevin died on the Leppings Lane terrace, said the damning findings of the Hillsborough report left Sir Norman with little option but to resign. 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."

Families of those killed in the Hillsborough disaster have repeatedly called for Sir Norman's resignation. When he was made chief constable of Merseyside in 1998, protests were held outside his home.

But Sir Norman has consistently defended himself against any allegations of wrongdoing in the aftermath of the tragedy, saying: "I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered."

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said Sir Norman's retirement would be a "great loss to policing".

"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 said. "His depth of knowledge and experience is highly regarded within the service."

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