Ex-police chief Sir Norman Bettison resigned after learning he faced possible dismissal over a last-minute discussion with a senior executive in which he allegedly sought to influence talks about his role in the Hillsborough scandal, documents showed last night.
Sir Norman spoke to the chief executive of West Yorkshire Police authority, Fraser Sampson, “immediately prior” to a meeting at which officials decided to refer him to the police watchdog for alleged misconduct in the aftermath of the Hillsborough Panel’s report into the 1989 disaster.
This conversation would have justified his sacking if it was proved that he had interfered with the “integrity of the complaints handling process”, according to previously unseen minutes of the West Yorkshire police authority obtained by the PoliceOracle.com website.
The police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, announced last month that it was investigating a large number of current and former police officers involved in the Hillsborough tragedy, including Sir Norman, who was chief constable of West Yorkshire Police until his resignation last month.
Sir Norman was accused in the Hillsborough Independent Panel report of having a lead role in deflecting blame from the police after the tragedy. The IPCC announced last month that it was also investigating a second complaint that he had attempted the influence the decision-making process of a West Yorkshire Police Authority committee that investigated disciplinary issues against senior officers.
Sir Norman was not accused of trying to stop the referral to the watchdog but how it would be made, an IPCC spokesman said yesterday, but declined to comment further on the content of the conversation.
At a meeting on September 15, Mr Sampson was invited to detail the conversation to the committee deciding Sir Norman’s future, according to minutes obtained after a freedom of information request. Mr Sampson’s account of the conversation was redacted.
Minutes of a second meeting of the committee held in private on October 3 showed that the conversation could amount to “gross misconduct” and dismissal if proved and the committee agreed to make a further referral to the IPCC.
Sir Norman resigned three weeks later on October 24, when the committee was due to meet again. and it is thought that he could have been suspended.
Pressure had mounted on Sir Norman, who has led West Yorkshire police since 2006, following the publication of the independent panel’s damning report about the police response and subsequent tampering of police accounts into the incidents that resulted in the deaths of 96 people.
Sir Norman was accused by the Labour MP Maria Eagle of being part of a “black ops” unit designed to cover up the police role in the disaster, allegations which he denied.
In the aftermath of the report, he said that he planned to step down as chief constable of West Yorkshire in March next year. He said that some members of the police authority and candidates for the police and crime commissioners job wanted him to go earlier.
He said that he left “not because of any allegations about the past, but because I share the view that this has become a distraction to policing in West Yorkshire now and in the future.”
His resignation meant that he would not face any misconduct charges. Sir Norman could not be contacted last night for comment, but has said previously that he would cooperate with the IPCC inquiry.