Bettison let off the hook, say campaigners

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SIR Norman Bettison was branded a “disgrace” by Hillsborough campaigners after a damning report revealed he would have faced gross misconduct allegations had he stayed on as chief constable of West Yorkshire Police.

The report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said Sir Norman tried to “manipulate” the way complaints about his handling of the Hillsborough disaster were referred to a watchdog to protect his own reputation.

He already faces a broader inquiry over his alleged role in the cover-up following the 1989 disaster which saw 96 Liverpool fans die at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground while he was a chief inspector in South Yorkshire.

But yesterday’s report concluded he abused his position during conversations with Fraser Sampson, the chief executive of West Yorkshire Police Authority, and Mark Burns-Williamson, its chairman, over the referral of his part in the affair to the IPCC.

Although Sir Norman insisted he did nothing wrong, the review’s authors concluded that he tried to persuade the authority to let him refer the matter to the watchdog himself instead of leaving the matter to its ‘special committee’.

It said: “Sir Norman’s preoccupation with what the public would think of him as an individual led him to try to adopt a process, and persuade others to adopt a process which removed the independent consideration of the issues from the committee, whose responsibility it was to make that decision.”

More than a month after the meeting of the special committee in September last year which saw the matters referred to the IPCC, Sir Norman announced his intention to retire with immediate effect.

The report concluded that he did not want to leave his post on October 23, but that the police authority would have asked him to resign the following day if he had not done so.

IPCC Deputy Chair Deborah Glass wrote: “I am very mindful of the public concerns around officers resigning or retiring while under investigation, thereby escaping a misconduct sanction.

“I do find it unacceptable that officers take that option rather than facing up to the case against them.”

Sir Norman’s decision to quit, claiming the controversy was a distraction to West Yorkshire Police, means no disciplinary measures can be taken against him.

Plans announced last month by Home Secretary Theresa May, which are too late to affect Sir Norman’s case, would mean disciplinary hearings against police officers would be continued even if they leave the force.

MPs and campaigners representing the victims of the Hillsborough disaster yesterday spoke of their frustration that the Rotherham-born officer, who also served as chief constable of Merseyside Police, would face no further sanctions.

Bassetlaw MP John Mann described Sir Norman’s actions as “quite extraordinary”.

He said: “I think he would have a case to answer. In my view he should now answer the case. This report is saying he jumped before he was pushed, and that he would have been sacked. We can’t allow senior police officers to behave like this.”

Sheila Coleman, of Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said: “It’s frustrating for people to know that serious allegations can be levelled at this man yet no action can be taken because he is no longer a serving police officer.

“West Yorkshire Police Authority forcing him to resign has effectively let him off the hook.”

Margaret Aspinall, chair of Hillsborough Family Support Group, said: “The man is an absolute disgrace. He should lose his knighthood and his doctorate from John Moores University.”

Sir Norman’s solicitor, John Harding, criticised the fairness of the IPCC report and said he had not been given the opportunity to “call those witnesses, which the IPCC declined to interview”.

But he said his client “remains keen to see that the investigation into the substantive matters is progressed as quickly as possible”.

He said: “The IPCC has decided that it considers my client acted improperly in seeking approval from the police authority to refer himself to the IPCC.

“The decision that there is a case to answer is not a finding of guilt.