Bettison to go amid authority concerns over Hillsborough

SIR Norman Bettison is to stand down as Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police after effectively being forced from office in the wake of highly critical findings in the recent independent Hillsborough disaster inquiry.

The Yorkshire Post can reveal West Yorkshire Police Authority has been pushing for Sir Norman to go from the first time it met to discuss the fallout of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report on September 21.

A series of police authority meetings held since then have been seeking a negotiated departure and last night Sir Norman released a statement indicating his plan to leave at the end of next March.

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The police authority had refused to accept an offer of a later retirement date and Sir Norman will be leaving nearly two years before his contract was due to end.

The chief’s statement said: “I have had the privilege to serve the people of West Yorkshire as their Chief Constable since 2007.

“My term of appointment with West Yorkshire Police was due to end in January of this year, but was extended with the approval of the Police Authority and Home Secretary.

“However 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. I have offered this proposal to my Police Authority.”

Well-placed sources have told the Yorkshire Post that authority members expressed very strong feelings when Sir Norman first appeared before them more than two weeks ago and his departure was more or less assured from then on.

Members discussed the possibility of suspending the chief constable but were keen to seek an agreed early retirement date to avoid potentially protracted employment proceedings.

The police authority formally met for the fifth time to discuss his position yesterday morning and just after 6pm the chief constable announced his plan to retire early.

His statement said: “The record of my leadership of West Yorkshire Police will speak for itself. Crime is down and public confidence is up.”

It continued: “Whilst representing a personal decision, this will enable an incoming Police and Crime Commissioner, who will take up office on the 22nd of November, to begin the search immediately for a new Chief Constable who can take the Force forwards.

“Furthermore, 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.

“It remains my intention to maintain and improve the performance of the Force, whilst ensuring a smooth transition to a new Chief Constable.”

Mark Burns-Williamson, chairman of West Yorkshire Police Authority, said Sir Norman, who had been due to leave in January 2015, had made the right decision.

He said: “The contract was extended quite recently and everybody anticipated that would be seen through to its conclusion. None of us, including Sir Norman himself I expect, anticipated the scale of the impact of the findings of the Hillsborough report.

“I think it’s the right decision. It’s no secret we’ve been in discussions regarding the situation but what the March date does is give us stability in the short-term in what is going to be a transitional period and allows time to get the process in place to appoint a new chief constable.”

He acknowledged police authority members had “varying views” on when Sir Norman should go but said March was “about right” in the circumstances.

Sir Norman has made clear he denies all the allegations but his widely-criticised public comments after the Hillsborough Independent Panel released its devastating findings hardened views of police authority members.

Following publication of the panel’s findings Sir Norman, who was a South Yorkshire Chief Inspector at the time of the 1989 disaster, said Liverpool fans’ behaviour made policing “harder than it needed to be”.

He made the comments after the panel’s report severely criticised the actions of South Yorkshire Police and detailed concerted efforts to shift the blame for the tragedy on to the fans, 96 of whom died following the fatal crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground.

Sir Norman’s role in an internal inquiry unit set up by the force in the immediate aftermath of the disaster was included in the report.

The panel found the South Yorkshire force altered 164 police statements, 116 of them to remove or alter “unfavourable” comments about the policing of the match and the unfolding disaster. Sir Norman has denied being involved in altering any statements.

The police authority referred Sir Norman to the Independent Police Complaints Commission after receiving complaints from the public following the panel’s report.

One of the allegations referred to the IPCC was that Sir Norman was “involved in the production and supply of misleading information for the various inquiries that have been undertaken into the Hillsborough disaster”.

In a television interview reacting to the news of Sir Norman’s early retirement last night, Keighley businessman Trevor Hicks, whose two daughters, 19-year-old Sarah and 15-year-old Victoria, were among the 96 who died, said: “I’m glad he’s realised his position is untenable.

“However, I’m determined that he does not escape his just deserts and I will make sure he’s stripped of his knighthood.

“He should leave with nothing, like he tried to leave the families.”

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.”

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.”