FORMER West Yorkshire Police chief constable Sir Norman Bettison tried to “manipulate” the way complaints about his handling of the Hillsborough disaster were referred to a watchdog to protect his own reputation, a damning report has revealed.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said yesterday that Sir Norman, who resigned from the force last year, would have a case to answer for gross misconduct if he were still in post.
The former chief inspector at South Yorkshire Police, is facing a broader IPCC inquiry over his alleged role in a cover-up following the 1989 disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans died at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground.
But the report published yesterday said he attempted to exploit his privileged position to persuade West Yorkshire’s police authority to let him refer the allegations to the watchdog himself instead of leaving the matter to its ‘special committee’.
It said: “The evidence indicates that Sir Norman was trying to influence the decision-making of the police authority because he wanted the public to believe that he had referred himself to the IPCC, to avoid any public impression he had done something wrong.
“Sir Norman put his own reputation as an individual above the need to ensure that a proper and transparent process was followed.”
Sir Norman will face no misconduct hearing over his actions because he has already left the force, claiming the allegations against him were a distraction to West Yorkshire Police.
Last month, Home Secretary Theresa May promised a crackdown on police who avoid disciplinary hearings because they resign or retire. The reforms would mean such proceedings will finish regardless of the officer’s departure.
Victims of the Hillsborough disaster have demanded Sir Norman, who is accused of giving misleading information in the wake of the tragedy, should be stripped of his knighthood.
Yesterday’s review concluded he abused his position during conversations with the now defunct police authority’s chief executive Fraser Sampson and chairman Mark Burns-Williamson, who has since been elected as West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner.
It found that ahead of a meeting of the authority’s ‘special committee’ on September 15, he spoke to both men in the hope he could make the referral himself rather than let the committee do it.
According to Mr Sampson, who took notes of their conversations at the time, Sir Norman tried to call him eight times in 16 minutes while the meeting was going on.
The report’s authors rejected Sir Norman’s explanation that he was merely trying to make sure the referral was carried out as quickly as possible, instead finding he wanted to “avoid any public impression he had done something wrong”.
IPCC Deputy Chair Deborah Glass said that, if proven, Sir Norman’s actions “fell so far short of what is expected of a Chief Constable that dismissal would be justified”.
She added: “While we cannot bring this case to misconduct proceedings, we can publish the evidence and our conclusions, so that the public can judge for themselves.”
Sir Norman’s solicitor John Harding criticised the fairness of the report and said his client “did himself wish to be investigated by the IPCC in connection with allegations made in respect of Hillsborough”.
“The decision that there is a case to answer is not a finding of guilt,” he said. “This point is accepted, explicitly, in the foreword of the IPCC report.”