THE high-flying career of Sir Norman Bettison has been brought to an abrupt end after allegations surrounding his role in the Hillsborough disaster proved too much to bear.
Once touted as a frontrunner to become Britain’s most senior police officer, Sir Norman was just an off-duty chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police attending an FA Cup semi-final as a spectator when 96 Liverpool fans died at Hillsborough in 1989.
But in the wake of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report last month his reputation suffered a further blow, with renewed allegations that he was involved in the police’s “black propaganda” campaign surrounding the disaster.
The veteran policeman then made a “personal decision” to step down as chief constable of West Yorkshire Police next year.
But after reports emerged this week of a conversation he supposedly had in a pub in which he allegedly said he was “concocting” a story about the disaster for South Yorkshire Police, which he strenuously denies, the pressure proved too much for Sir Norman.
The decision will be seen as a personal defeat which blemishes what has been a successful career, though Sir Norman maintains he has stepped down not due to the Hillsborough allegations, but because the media storm and resulting pressure had become a “distraction to policing in West Yorkshire”.
Born in Rotherham, in South Yorkshire, on January 3 1956, Sir Norman was intent on a career in policing from a young age and left school at 16 to join the force as a cadet.
Working his way up through the ranks in his native county, Sir Norman was a member of South Yorkshire Police’s internal review group on Hillsborough and by 1993 had become assistant chief constable of West Yorkshire Police.
Ironically, it was in Liverpool that he first rose to the top of a police force when he was made chief constable of Merseyside Police in 1998.
Families of the victims decried the decision, claiming he had been involved in the police’s Hillsborough cover-up, while several members of the Merseyside Police Authority resigned in protest.
Undeterred by this opposition, Sir Norman stayed on in Liverpool for six years and was even named an honorary fellow of the city’s John Moores University.
After retiring from the police in 2004 to become the chief executive of Centrex, a firm which offered training to police forces, he was knighted for services to policing in 2006.
Returning to an active role in the police and Yorkshire, Sir Norman became West Yorkshire Police’s chief constable in January 2007 and was designated the officer responsible for overseeing policing of domestic extremism.
And in 2008 there was speculation in the media suggesting he was among the top candidates to succeed Sir Ian Blair after he was ousted as Metropolitan Police Commissioner by Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
But ruling himself out of the race for British policing’s top job, Sir Norman said: “The dislodging of Ian Blair is a demonstration of political will. Along this road lies danger. I am therefore staying put.”
The policeman denies any wrongdoing in relation to the Hillsborough disaster, but with an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation hanging over him, staying put was no longer an option.