I'm the poster boy for Hillsborough conspiracy theorists, claims Norman Bettison

Former chief constable Norman Bettison has denied being part of a '˜black propaganda' conspiracy after the Hillsborough disaster in a book where he claims to have become 'a symbol for something that had been mythologised over a quarter of a century'.

Sir Norman Bettison arrives at the new Hillsborough inquests in Warrington

The ex-chief of West Yorkshire Police complains of being made the “poster boy for conspiracy theorists and the whipping boy for revenge” ever since the publication of the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) report into Britain’s worst sporting disaster.

Sir Norman, who was a Chief Inspector with the South Yorkshire force at the time of the 1989 tragedy, said he had been caught up in a “witch-hunt” over the accusation that he “conspired with others to cover-up the true causes of the Hillsborough disaster”.

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His book defending his role in the aftermath of Hillsborough has been criticised by families of the victims, with one suggesting it may be an attempt to preserve his knighthood.

Sir Norman Bettison

Sir Norman has also come under fire for the timing of the book. The police watchdog, which is carrying out a criminal investigation into an alleged cover-up in the aftermath of the disaster, intends to send files for the Crown Prosecution Service to consider possible charges including perverting the course of justice at the end of this year.

Chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the disaster, branded the book “irrelevant”

She said: “We have nothing to worry about. We have already proven our case for the families, the fans and the survivors.

“I think he’s a sad man. His book is irrelevant. The truth is out there and that’s all that matters.”

The Hillsborough disaster unfolded in April 1989, claiming 96 lives.

The former officer confirmed in the book that he was interviewed under caution by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and was considered “a central suspect in a criminal conspiracy”.

The 2012 HIP report, whose findings prompted new inquests to be launched into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans, revealed that South Yorkshire Police “sought to establish a case emphasising exceptional levels of drunkenness and aggression among Liverpool fans”.

In his book Hillsborough Untold: Aftermath of a Disaster, Sir Norman, who denies being involved in “concocting black propaganda”, said attention was focused on his role after he was named by Trevor Hicks, then President of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, as being at the heart of a ‘dirty tricks campaign’.

The former officer then described the chain of events that led to him being forced to resign from West Yorkshire Police just over a month later amid an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into the aftermath of the disaster.

Sir Norman was West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable until 2012.

This included deciding to issue an ‘ill-thought out’ public statement about the disaster, saying fans’ behaviour made the job of the police harder, after being contacted by The Yorkshire Post for a comment in the hours after the HIP report.

Though praising the Hillsborough Independent Panel report in his book, Sir Norman said it was neither definitive nor independent and added that it made “no allegations of wrongdoing by any person”.

He added: “What no report, or book, can every lay claim to is a monopoly on the truth. Even if an author asserts it on their title page.

“Politicians, campaigners and many in the press have, however, seized upon it as a gospel testifying to a criminal conspiracy that had suppressed the truth for a quarter of a century.

Sir Norman Bettison

“I was the only person named in the report that remained alive and who was still serving as a police officer. The last man standing, so to speak.

“I had been also been a public figure in Merseyside and had risen to the rank of Chief Constable. I immediately became the poster boy for conspiracy theorists...and the whipping boy for revenge.”

In April this year, the jury at the new inquests into the disaster ruled that the 96 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed and that a catalogue of failings by police and the ambulance services contributed to their deaths.

Appearing on BBC Newsnight this evening, Sir Norman said he devoted two chapters of this book to his role after Hillsborough, and that this was “not an insignificant, inconsequential role”.

This includes compiling a report intended for the 1989 Taylor Inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster which include accounts from officers who described fans as “animals” but did not include any criticisms of senior officers.

Sir Norman gave evidence at the inquests over four days, during which he denied saying to a civil servant in the days after the tragedy that police would concoct a story about Liverpool fans being drunk at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium.

The Hillsborough disaster unfolded in April 1989, claiming 96 lives.

He wrote: “My own cameo contribution to the coronial proceedings had nothing to do with providing answers about the cause or circumstances of deaths of any of those individuals.

“Even though I was on hand in 1989 and had something to say. That wasn’t why I was invited to appear.

“I wasn’t summoned, either, because there was any suspicion that I had some responsibility of accountability for those deaths. I hadn’t been involved in the planning or the command of the fateful police operation.

“I was there, at the Warrington Court for four days, because I had become a symbol for something that had been mythologised over a quarter of a century.

“Some people genuinely believe that there had been a conspiracy within South Yorkshire Police that started as soon as the disaster occurred. A conspiracy to deflect the blame away from the force and place it instead on the fans.

“I had, through fate and circumstance, become the most recognised name whenever this tale of conspiracy was re-told. I was there to be tested. I was on ‘trial’.”

In 1998, Sir Norman was accused in Parliament by Merseyside MP Maria Eagle of being part of a “black propaganda unit” involved in changing officers’ statements to emphasise alleged misbehaviour and drunkenness by supporters.

Trevor Hicks, a Keighley businessman whose two teenage daughters died in the disaster, said Sir Norman was “perfectly entitled to write anything he wants”, but that his timing was “insensitive as normal”.

He said: “I haven’t read the book but am told it is not going to sell in big quantities because it is just a load of ‘poor old me’. He is on a huge pension and he should have been fired, then he wouldn’t have a pension.

“What does he hope to achieve by it? Is he trying to hang onto his knighthood or it is just to make money?

“I will not be buying it, if he were to send an autographed copy to me I would send it back.”

Sir Norman’s book contains a number of criticisms of police watchdog the IPCC over its Hillsborough investigation, saying its launch “seemed to be shaped as much by popular attitudes as it was by prima facie evidence”.

A spokeswoman for the IPCC said it was carrying out its work “thoroughly, efficiently, and independently”.

She said: “The Hillsborough investigation is the biggest criminal investigation into alleged police wrongdoing undertaken in this country.

“Since it became fully operational in June 2013, more than 10,000 lines of inquiry have been pursued, over 4,000 witness statements recorded and over 7,000 exhibits have been obtained and analysed.

“This is in addition to the 26,000 documents received from the Hillsborough Independent Panel. During this time the investigation team supported the Hillsborough inquests by providing coroner Sir John Goldring with evidence he required to conduct these proceedings, which were the longest running in British legal history.

“We remain on track to deliver full evidence files to the Crown Prosecution Service at the turn of the year, to enable decisions on criminal charges to be made.

The spokeswoman added that its officials did not think the book “has a significant adverse impact on the ongoing criminal investigation”.

Hillsborough Untold: Aftermath of a Disaster, published on November 17, is said by Sir Norman to be aimed at his grand-daughters, Olivia and Freya, so they can make up their minds about his role in aftermath of the 1989 tragedy.

Biteback Publishing said the proceeds would be donated to charity. A spokesman said it was hoped the book will help “add to the narrative” of what happened during the disaster.

Barry Devonside, who lost his son Christopher in the disaster, has previously said he was “saddened and disappointed” at the former officer’s decision to write the book.

Sir Norman was West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable until 2012.