Did Sir Norman Bettison try to smear Hillsborough inquest judge?

 

Sir Norman Bettison triggered an attempt by South Yorkshire Police to prosecute the High Court judge who led the original Hillsborough inquiry in 1989 over claims that he had blamed the force for the disaster even before he began his investigation.

In what was last night condemned as another "black propaganda" operation, senior officers considered charging Lord Justice Taylor with perverting the course of justice after a police driver claimed he had overheard the judge state that the South Yorkshire force would have to carry the can for the catastrophe, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans in April 1989.

But although the alleged conversation took place only three days after the disaster, the driver waited a year to "put the record straight" over the "injustice" suffered by the force. Documents published by the Hillsborough Independent Panel last week show that he only reported the allegations after he was "encouraged" to do so by his colleague Norman Bettison – then a key figure in a South Yorkshire Police unit that attempted to exonerate the force and blame Liverpool fans for the tragedy.

Sir Norman, who was knighted in 2006 and now serves as West Yorkshire's chief constable, faced calls to resign last week after the panel's report was published – and he gave an initial response that appeared once more to push some of the blame on to fans. It was announced yesterday that he had been referred to the police watchdog by his own police authority, after it had received a complaint related to Hillsborough.

The police driver's accusation of prejudice against one of the most well-regarded judges in the country was taken so seriously that the South Yorkshire chief constable travelled to London to discuss potential charges with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), claiming that: "My greatest wish is that the truth is served."

"The idea that the police would question the integrity of a High Court judge, let alone press charges against him, beggars belief," said Louise Ellman, now MP for Liverpool Riverside. "We have already seen evidence of this type of black propaganda. It shows the depths some people were willing to go to in order to shift the blame from themselves."

The independent panel's report last week vindicated victims' families, who had insisted the police, not the fans, were responsible for the disaster. It found that police and emergency services had made "strenuous attempts" to deflect blame on to fans. More than 160 police statements were changed, 116 of them to remove or alter "unfavourable" comments about the policing of the match and the unfolding disaster.

But among the thousands of documents was a confidential file detailing allegations from the unnamed officer who drove the judge and the then West Midlands chief constable, Geoffrey Dear – who was also investigating the tragedy – to the Hillsborough stadium three days after the disaster.

The DPP at the time advised there was no case to answer. Despite this and dismissals by both Lord Justice Taylor and Mr Dear when the allegations were put to them by a senior official of the Home Office, the file was deemed so sensitive that it was kept in a safe for several years with a note warning that a leak of the details "could prove highly embarrassing for all parties".

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