The University of Liverpool has postponed the award of an honorary degree to the Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe after an angry backlash from the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster.
Sir Bernard, the most senior police officer in Britain, is under IPCC investigation over his role in the aftermath of the 1989 tragedy that saw 96 Liverpool fans killed.
The university said it had offered Sir Bernard an honorary law doctorate in 2012, but the decision to hold the ceremony this December with the Hillsborough inquests and IPCC probe ongoing was described as "appalling" and "insensitive" by campaigners.
Sir Bernard was due to be honoured on the morning of 1 December this year - at the same time as awards were to be handed out to graduates of the university's Football Industries MBA course.
Emile Coleman, the CEO of the sports software company Globall Coach, said it would be withdrawing its offer of a partnership with the university and that "it would be wrong for us to be associated with any organisation or individual willing to show such levels of ignorance and insensitivity".
Earlier Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG), told the Liverpool Echo she would be formally complaining on behalf of the Hillsborough families, calling the decision a "disgrace". "They should have more common sense than to do anything like this at this moment in time – the sheer insensitivity of it, it beggars belief," she said.
The University has now apologised to those who reacted angrily to the news Sir Bernard was to be honoured. Twitter users called it "a disgrace", while Charl Hennessy tweeted that it had "caused so much upset to myself and other Hillsborough family members".
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Patrick Hackett, said: "Given the ongoing inquests and investigations relating to the Hillsborough disaster, the University and the Commissioner have decided to postpone the degree ceremony pending the outcome of the investigations.
"We are deeply sorry if we have inadvertently caused any distress to the Hillsborough families. All of us feel great sensitivity to the families at this difficult time."
Sir Bernard lectured at Liverpool University earlier this year and has previously served as Merseyside Police's chief constable. He was referred for investigation to the IPCC last December over his dealings with some families after the disaster at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium.
The IPCC told the Echo it could not comment on any investigation while the inquests are proceeding.