Calls for top police to face trial over Hillsborough

Cameron refuses to back officer after fresh slur on fans

There were demands for senior police officers to be prosecuted over the Hillsborough disaster and cover-up last night as one of the country's most prominent chief constables faced calls to resign for his role in the scandal.

Lawyers for the relatives of the 96 Liverpool fans who died in the 1989 crush said there could be grounds to put serving and retired officers on trial – as well as council officials and representatives of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club where the match was staged.

Potential charges include manslaughter and perverting the course of justice, said Michael Mansfield, QC, who is representing the families.

Sir Norman Bettison, serving Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, enraged relatives further yesterday by insisting that the fans' behaviour on match day had made it harder for police to keep control.

Sir Norman, who was a spectator at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, was head of a team of senior officers charged with putting the case for South Yorkshire Police in the immediate wake of the disaster.

The police review group's final report sought to blame unruly and drunk fans carrying alcohol for converging on the turnstiles just before kick-off.

Sir Norman fiercely denied taking part in the systematic altering of officers' statements submitted to the 1989 Taylor inquiry, which he said was carried out by a different team within the force. But there was growing speculation over his future when the Prime Minister failed to back the chief constable.

Last night the West Yorkshire Police Authority referred the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel to a special committee which oversees the conduct of senior ranks.

In his statement Sir Norman said: "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. I have absolutely nothing to hide."

Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, said she was angered by Sir Norman's comments. "He is still saying the fans made the job more difficult for the police. He ought to be ashamed of himself. Do the decent thing Mr Bettison –resign," she said.

The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton, said anyone who was found to have falsified documents would face criminal investigation.

The force is considering referring matters raised in the panel's report to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC said it was also looking at the new evidence.

Mr Mansfield told The Independent that future criminal charges could include manslaughter by gross negligence – which carries a maximum life term – and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. He also raised the prospect of a retrial of two senior police officers who were cleared of manslaughter during a private prosecution brought by the families in 2000.

A jury could not reach a verdict in the case of David Duckenfield, who was in charge of crowd control on the day, and cleared his deputy, Bernard Murray.

The lawyer added it was "pretty clear" that there had been some agreement led from the top of the South Yorkshire force to create their own narrative of what happened on that day.

It emerged yesterday that the Hillsborough families had travelled to Londonderry with the former Labour minister Andy Burnham in the summer to meet relatives of those affected by Bloody Sunday.

Meanwhile, the former Conservative MP Sir Irvine Patnick said he was sorry for providing inaccurate information which led to The Sun's notorious coverage of the tragedy. "It is now clear that the information I received from some police officers at the time was wholly inaccurate," he said.

Boris says sorry to Liverpool – for second time

Boris Johnson was forced to apologise yesterday over a Spectator article which blamed drunken Liverpool fans' behaviour for the Hillsborough tragedy.

The unsigned 2004 editorial linked the beheading of Merseyside hostage Ken Bigley in Iraq to the football disaster. Mr Johnson said: "The police became a convenient scapegoat, and the Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident."

Yesterday Mr Johnson said: "I was very, very sorry in 2004 that the Spectator [carried] an editorial that partially repeated those allegations, I apologised then and I apologise now."

Jonathan Brown

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