Under-fire police chief says ‘it’s business as usual’

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UNDER-FIRE West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettison has claimed it is “business as usual” after meeting with his authority for the first time since it referred him to the police watchdog for his alleged role in the emergency services cover-up over Hillsborough.

Sir Norman attended the West Yorkshire Police Authority meeting yesterday, just days after it referred allegations from members of the public about him being “involved in the production and supply of misleading information for the various inquiries that have been undertaken into the Hillsborough disaster” to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

30th August 2011'Chief of WY police Sir Norman Bettison visited Hemsworth to show that despite cuts, police are here to stay 'PICTURE: MATTHEW PAGE

30th August 2011'Chief of WY police Sir Norman Bettison visited Hemsworth to show that despite cuts, police are here to stay 'PICTURE: MATTHEW PAGE

The IPCC said controversial comments Sir Norman made following the release of a report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel last week had also been referred by the police authority, which is the chief constable’s employer.

Members of the authority discussed the allegations in private at the end of the session.

Leaving the meeting, Sir Norman, who earlier claimed he had not considered resigning, said: “The thing I’d like to say is that it’s business as usual. I’ve got a force to run.

“I’m absolutely delighted that the IPCC have got hold of this matter. I’m really anxious – I’m eager – to help them get started on the investigation. If they want to see me next week, I’d be happy to turn up.

“In the meantime, I’m running the force and we’re a successful force, I think the finest force in the country.”

The Hillsborough Independent Panel report revealed a cover-up took place to shift the blame on to the victims and it was possible that 41 of the 96 lives lost might have been saved if the emergency response had been better.

The panel found 164 police statements were altered, 116 of them to remove or alter “unfavourable” comments about the policing of the match and the unfolding disaster.

Sir Norman was a South Yorkshire chief inspector at the time and his role in an internal inquiry unit set up by the force in the immediate aftermath of the disaster has come under close scrutiny.

He has denied being involved in altering any statements.

Following the publication of the panel’s findings he was widely criticised for saying Liverpool fans’ behaviour made policing at the tragedy in 1989 “harder than it needed to be”.

Speaking after the meeting, West Yorkshire Police Authority chair Coun Mark Burns-Williamson, said: “Today’s scheduled meeting was the first opportunity for the police authority to meet together and with the chief constable since the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report was published last Wednesday.

“Today they have been able to review the actions taken by the police authority since the report was published, including the decision by the authority’s special committee to refer the complaints about the chief constable to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

“The members fully supported the decision of the special committee, considered a number of relevant issues and agreed that the police authority would need to meet again next Tuesday.”

He added: “I’m certain that we’ve followed due process with regard to referral to the IPCC and this week he [Sir Norman] has been getting on with the job of chief constable, making sure the policing of the county is there and continues.

“And, obviously, the tragic events over in Manchester this week just highlight the dedication of police officers and staff on a day-to-day basis in keeping the public safe and that is the bottom line.”

Last week, the police authority’s special committee agreed to record a complaint against Sir Norman and refer it to the IPCC for investigation.

The formal referral arrived with the IPCC on Tuesday.

Questions about Sir Norman’s role in the investigation of Hillsborough have dogged Sir Norman as he has risen through the higher ranks of the police – most notably when there were protests from the families of those who died when he became chief constable of Merseyside in 1998.