Sir Norman Bettison, the West Yorkshire chief constable at the centre of criticism over the Hillsborough disaster, has resigned.
He tendered his resignation ahead of a meeting today which was scheduled to consider his role in the aftermath of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which he investigated for South Yorkshire Police.
In a statement, Sir Norman said he had never blamed the fans for the tragedy: “First, and foremost, the Hillsborough tragedy 23 years ago left 96 families bereaved and countless others injured and affected by it.
”I have always felt the deepest compassion and sympathy for the families, and I recognise their longing to understand exactly what happened on that April afternoon…I have never blamed the fans for causing the tragedy.“
Sir Norman also dismissed reports of a conversation he had in a pub in which he allegedly said he was ”concocting“ a story for South Yorkshire Police.
He said; ”The suggestion that I would say to a passing acquaintance that I was deployed as part of a team tasked to 'concoct a false story of what happened', is both incredible and wrong. That isn't what I was tasked to do, and I did not say that.“
Sir Norman said the police authority and some of the candidates in the forthcoming PCC elections made it clear that they wanted him to go.
”I do so, 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.“
In September this year, Sir Norman risked angering survivors as he once again called into question the behaviour of fans during the match. He added, however, that he did not believe their conduct ”caused the disaster“.
In the September 13 statement, Bettison described his role on April 15, 1989 and wrote: “I sat through every single day of the Taylor Inquiry, in the summer of 1989. I learned so much. Taylor was right in saying that the disaster was caused, mainly, through a lack of police control.
“Fans' behaviour, to the extent that it was relevant at all, made the job of the police, in the crush outside Leppings Lane turnstiles, harder than it needed to be.
But it didn't cause the disaster any more than the sunny day that encouraged people to linger outside the stadium as kick off approached.
“I held those views then, I hold them now. I have never, since hearing the Taylor evidence unfold, offered any other interpretation in public or private.”
At the time of the Hillsborough tragedy Sir Norman was a South Yorkshire Police inspector who attended the match as a spectator and later took part in an internal inquiry.
Earlier this month he announced his decision to retire from the service next March, but calls for him to go sooner have grown.
Yesterday two of the four candidates bidding to be West Yorkshire's new Police and Crime Commissioner called for him to stand down.
West Yorkshire Police Authority vice-chair Les Carter today said: “I can confirm that the Police Authority has accepted Sir Norman's resignation with immediate effect.
”The media attention and Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation is proving to be a huge distraction for the force, at a time when it is trying to maintain performance and make savings of £100 million...We therefore believe that his decision is in the best interest of the communities of West Yorkshire."
“It should be recognised that Sir Norman has served West Yorkshire well. He has reduced crime, increased confidence in policing and made a huge contribution to neighbourhood policing. On behalf of the Police Authority, I would like to thank him for what he has achieved here and wish him the best for the future.”
Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, welcomed the announcement but said Sir Norman's pension should be frozen while the investigation takes place into the police cover-up highlighted by the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
She said: “I'm absolutely delighted he's gone but as far as I am concerned he should have been sacked...I would now like to know what payments and pension he's going to get...Any financial benefits should be frozen until the outcome of the investigation into the cover-up.
“This is not the end of it, the next thing is to make sure his role is properly investigated,” she added.
Mrs Aspinall, who lost her 18-year-old son James in the disaster, said the families had “no vendetta” against the former chief constable.
“He's not the only one who we believe took part in this cover-up. But as a senior officer he should have been honest from the very beginning...He allowed the families to suffer for 23-years while knowing the truth all along.”