Sir Norman Bettison 'right' to retire amid investigations into his role following the Hillsborough disaster, says police authority chairman


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The Independent Online

West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettison's plan to retire amid continuing investigations into his role following the Hillsborough disaster is the "right decision", his police authority chairman has said.

Sir Norman's announcement that he will step down in March, at the age of 57, has been welcomed by the families of the victims of the 1989 tragedy.

He sparked fury last month when he said supporters made policing on the day "harder than it needed to be".

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating a complaint that Sir Norman supplied misleading information after the disaster.

He was a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police in 1989. He went to the match in Sheffield as a spectator but was involved in an internal inquiry held by the force in the aftermath of the tragedy.

The IPCC said it was also examining the statement he made following the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel last month.

West Yorkshire Police Authority chairman Mark Burns-Williamson said: "In all the circumstances and after due consideration, we think this is the right decision for retirement in March 2013.

"The bottom line has to be what is best for policing in West Yorkshire.

"Sir Norman has clearly taken that into consideration and already declared his intent to work with the IPCC investigation following the recent referral by the Police Authority."

Mr Burns-Williamson made his statement amid reports today that his authority met a number of times to discuss the chief's position and there were "varying views" on when he should go.

He said: "We have had some discussion about the chief constable's possible retirement date and succession planning, but hadn't reached any firm agreement. Sir Norman Bettison has been a very valued and effective chief constable. West Yorkshire is much the better for his leadership over the past six years or so."

Last night, Margaret Aspinall, 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."

Mrs Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the tragedy, said: "Why didn't he stay, then, until the IPCC came out with their investigation?

"But he's decided to leave. I'm not arguing against it, because I'm thrilled that he is going, but if he's got nothing to hide, why is he retiring?

"The man has got something to worry about."

There were calls for Sir Norman to resign after his comments about the behaviour of Liverpool fans last month, but he responded with an apology and said his role was never to "besmirch" the fans and added that the Liverpool supporters were in no way to blame for what happened.

He has always denied any wrongdoing in relation to the disaster.

Questions about Sir Norman's role in the investigation of the tragedy have dogged him as he has risen through the higher ranks of the police - most notably protests from the families of those who died when he became chief constable of Merseyside in 1998.

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 March 31 2013."

In a message posted on the West Yorkshire Police website, Sir Norman said he hoped his departure would assist the IPCC in its inquiry.

"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 said.

The damning report on the Hillsborough disaster laid bare a shocking cover-up which attempted to shift the blame on to its 96 victims.

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

Sir Norman previously defended his role in the aftermath of the tragedy, saying: "I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered."

He also said: "I really welcome the disclosure of all the facts that can be known about the Hillsborough tragedy because I have absolutely nothing to hide."

Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son Kevin died on the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough, said the findings of the recent report left Sir Norman with no choice but to retire.

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.

"I don't think he would have retired if it wasn't for the Hillsborough report."

Trevor Hicks, who lost his two daughters, 19-year-old Sarah and 15-year-old Victoria, told ITV News: "I'm glad he's realised his position is untenable. However, I'm determined that he does not escape his just deserts and I will make sure he's stripped of his knighthood.

"He should leave with nothing, like he tried to leave the families."