Hillsborough Families Welcome Resignation
5 October 2012, 07:41
The families of Hillsborough victims have welcomed the retirement of a top police officer who criticised Liverpool fans after the inquiry into the tragedy.
Sir Norman Bettison, a South Yorkshire Police chief inspector at the time of the disaster, sparked fury last month when he said supporters made policing at "harder than it needed to be''.
Now the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, has announced he'll step down in March next year amid an investigation by the police watchdog.
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.''
A complaint was made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) that Sir Norman - who was off duty on April 15th 1989 and went to the match in Sheffield as a spectator - had supplied misleading information after the disaster.
The IPCC also said there was a second element to the referral, which related to a statement the officer made last month following the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
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, 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 the disaster.
He was involved in an internal inquiry held by the force in the aftermath of the tragedy.
He has 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 when there were protests from the families of those who died when he became Chief Constable of Merseyside in 1998.
Sir Norman said in a statement:
"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 31 March 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."
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.''
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, said the findings of the recent report left Sir Norman with no choice but to retire.
"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 desserts and I will make sure he's stripped of his knighthood.
He should leave with nothing, like he tried to leave the families.''