The Telegraph, September 2012 – James Saunders comments re Hillsborough: police chief investigated over disaster
Sir Norman Bettison, the chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, is to be investigated for his role during the Hillsborough disaster after defying calls to resign.
Sir Norman, the most senior serving police officer who was involved with the discredited Hillsborough operation, yesterday angered the families by claiming that fans had made the job of police "harder than it needed to be".
The independent panel's landmark investigation into the 1989 tragedy, in which 96 died, exonerated fans and found that police chiefs lied and ordered the alteration of statements to cover up the truth. West Yorkshire Police Authority yesterday confirmed it was reviewing Sir Norman's conduct during the initial Hillsborough investigation.
James Saunders, a lawyer for the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said: "If he won't resign he should be fired. It is desperate stuff [to criticise the fans] and simply untrue."
The panel concluded that as many as 41 lives could have been saved with a proper response by emergency services. Relations of the victims are campaigning for officers to be prosecuted for manslaughter and perverting the course of justice. South Yorkshire Police, which led the original investigation, said it was prepared to refer officers to the Independent Police Complaints Commission over their conduct, which may lead to criminal prosecutions. The commission said the Hillsborough panel has raised "serious and troubling issues with police" and that it is now identifying "what should be investigated".
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, led calls for a criminal investigation. Sir Norman, who earns lb225,000 a year, refused to resign despite pressure from victims' families and senior MPs, including Jack Straw, the former home secretary. Sir Norman said: "Fans' behaviour, to the extent that it was relevant at all, made the job of the police, in the crush outside Leppings Lane turnstiles, harder than it needed to be. But it didn't cause the disaster any more than the sunny day that encouraged people to linger outside the stadium as kick-off approached. I held those views then, I hold them now." Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, said: "He needs to consider his position. His comments have the flavour of reviving all the allegations that have been rejected by the panel."
Documents released by the panel disclosed Sir Norman's further criticism of fans. In 1989, as a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police, he attended the Liverpool-Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final as a spectator. In his witness statement he claimed that Liverpool fans were "aggressive" and attacked police cars and match officials during the rescue operation. He said many were without tickets. Documents also disclose that Sir Norman formed part of a unit which attempted to publicise the force's account of what happened. He produced a 29-minute video, which he "culled" from 65 hours of film, that was shown to MPs.
It included a commentary which stated: "Perimeter fences were the result of hooliganism "" walls demolished, missile attacks on police officers, supporters climbing perimeter fences, pitch invasion."
In light of the review, Sir Norman said: "I really welcome the disclosure of all the facts about the Hillsborough tragedy because I have absolutely nothing to hide. I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered."