‘Improper influence’ claim puts Bettison at risk of sack

SIR Norman Bettison may now face disciplinary action and potentially dismissal before his planned retirement next March following fresh allegations relating to an investigation into his role in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster.

It had been thought the West Yorkshire chief constable would escape any potential disciplinary action over allegations he was involved in a post-Hillsborough cover-up because an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) would run beyond his retirement date.

But yesterday it emerged the IPCC had recently received what it described as a “serious allegation” that Sir Norman tried to improperly influence West Yorkshire Police Authority when it initially referred complaints to the police watchdog last month.

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The IPCC has set up a separate investigation which is likely to be relatively short and is expected to end before Sir Norman retires. The latest revelations prompted renewed calls for Sir Norman to be suspended but the police authority indicated this was not currently on the agenda.

A gross misconduct outcome could lead to Sir Norman’s dismissal, although that would have no impact on his pension entitlement. He has already received nearly half a million pounds from Merseyside Police Authority following his retirement as Merseyside chief constable in 2004, including a lump sum payment of £328,000.

His retirement payments stopped when he rejoined the police service with West Yorkshire in 2007 but are due to resume at a rate of £83,000 a year from next March.

Sir Norman’s lucrative pension will only be interrupted if he is convicted of a criminal offence and the IPCC’s announcement of a wide-ranging inquiry into allegations surrounding the 1989 disaster indicated that was a possibility.

The West Yorkshire chief faces an inquiry into allegations he was involved in a cover-up of the police role in the Hillsborough disaster when he was a chief inspector in South Yorkshire.

His role in an internal inquiry by a small group of senior South Yorkshire officers which produced a now thoroughly discredited report which sought to deflect blame for the tragedy onto Liverpool supporters is one of the key lines of the IPCC inquiry.

Yesterday the IPCC said the production of what was known as the Wain Report “at its highest... could amount to perverting the course of justice, and at the least, raises questions of discreditable conduct, and honesty and integrity”.

The involvement of what the IPCC termed the “Wain group” in altering police statements is also under investigation. Sir Norman has specifically denied he was 
involved in altering statements.

Sir Norman’s involvement in attempts by the South Yorkshire Police Federation to influence the views of MPs after the tragedy is also under investigation along with his role in preparing evidence relating to the fateful decision not to close a tunnel leading to terracing where the crush that led to the deaths of 96 fans occurred.

Last night West Yorkshire Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke said Sir Norman should be suspended immediately.

“It’s about public perception,” the Elmet and Rothwell MP said. “I don’t think the public could have full faith in an investigation 
if the people being investigated are still involved at the highest level on the police service. We 
are talking about the Chief Constable.

“In order that people can have faith in this process he should be suspended from duty. In the next few days Sir Norman Bettison should postpone his retirement date until this investigation has run its course.”

The police authority, which effectively forced Sir Norman out of his post by pressing him to retire nearly two years early, has the power to suspend Sir Norman if it believes the integrity of the inquiry could otherwise be compromised or if public confidence is overwhelmingly undermined by his remaining in post.

But a spokeswoman said suspension was not currently under consideration.