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'Whipping boy' Sir Norman Bettison hits out at Hillsborough panel report

Published 17/11/2016

Sir Norman Bettison arriving at the Hillsborough inquest
Sir Norman Bettison arriving at the Hillsborough inquest

Former police chief Sir Norman Bettison has criticised the Hillsborough Independent Panel report and the ongoing investigation into the disaster in a book about the tragedy.

The police officer, who was a chief inspector in South Yorkshire at the time of the disaster, released Hillsborough Untold: Aftermath Of A Disaster to give a personal account of his role in the tragedy and following events.

Earlier this year an inquest, which heard evidence from Sir Norman, found the 96 Liverpool fans who died following the disaster on April 15 1989, were unlawfully killed and supporters were not to blame.

Sir Norman - who claimed in the book he had been a Liverpool FC fan since the age of nine and rarely missed a match when he was Merseyside Police chief - denied there was any cover-up within the force after the disaster.

In the book, he said he was in the "wrong place at the wrong time" when the independent panel report was released in 2012 and became a "poster boy for conspiracy theorists".

Sir Norman, who is currently under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for his role in the aftermath, suggested the ongoing inquiry had not been "open-minded".

He said the Hillsborough Independent Panel report was "authoritative" but not "definitive".

He said: "I was the only person named in the report that remained alive and who was still serving as a police officer. The last man standing, so to speak.

"I had also been a public figure in Merseyside and had risen to the rank of chief constable.

"I immediately became the poster boy for conspiracy theorists... and the whipping boy for revenge."

He said the panel report was written in "a leading style" and added: "For anyone who already had a prejudice about the police role, post disaster, there were references that allowed them to infer all kinds of mischief."

In the book, dedicated to his granddaughters, Sir Norman described his memories of the day of the FA Cup semi-final - which he attended as a spectator - and his role in a team tasked with gathering evidence in the aftermath of the disaster, as well as his later appointment as chief constable of the Merseyside force.

He also spoke of the process by which the statements of more than 200 police officers were amended.

He said: "I can address this issue confidently. I knew of the process.

"My own account was amended. I never, at the time, saw anything as part of this process that caused me any concern."

He claimed the IPCC had "misunderstood" the purpose of a report he prepared for police lawyers, ahead of Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry into the disaster, which included claims that drunk and ticketless fans made a concerted effort to get into the stadium.

He said: "The Hillsborough Panel were struck by the one-sided view offered by the report but seemed pretty clear that it was only ever an internal report."

He said he was called to give evidence at the two-year long inquests held in Warrington "as a pseudo defendant at the only forum that might, figuratively speaking, put me in 'the dock'".

Sir Norman is said to be donating his proceeds from sales of the book to charity.

Chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the disaster, branded the book "irrelevant"

She said: "We have nothing to worry about. We have already proven our case for the families, the fans and the survivors.

"I think he's a sad man.

"His book is irrelevant. The truth is out there and that's all that matters."

The IPCC had requested a copy of the book before publication.

A spokeswoman for the watchdog said: "We have read and assessed the book. We do not think it has a significant adverse impact on the ongoing criminal investigation and we would need to be able to demonstrate this in order to bring any legal action to prevent publication."

In response to Sir Norman's criticisms of the investigation, she said: "The IPCC carries out its work thoroughly, efficiently, and independently.

"The Hillsborough investigation is the biggest criminal investigation into alleged police wrongdoing undertaken in this country."

She added: "We remain on track to deliver full evidence files to the Crown Prosecution Service at the turn of the year, to enable decisions on criminal charges to be made."

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