Police chief has 'nothing to hide' as Boris Johnson apologises

Hillsborough Liverpool
Liverpool fans trying to escape severe overcrowding during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final. Photo: David Giles/PA Wire

Sir Norman Bettison, the most senior serving officer who was involved with the police's Hillsborough operation, said he had "nothing to hide".

Sir Norman, the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, has faced calls to quit after an independent report showed there was a police cover up in the Hillsborough tragedy where 96 Liverpool fans were killed.

In a statement today, Sir Norman said he had "nothing to hide" and insisted the behaviour of some fans in the stadium made the job of the police "harder than it needed to be".

The more we learn about events, the more we may understand. I sat through every single day of the Taylor Inquiry, in the summer of 1989. I learned so much. Taylor was right in saying that the disaster was caused, mainly, through a lack of police control.

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. I have never, since hearing the Taylor evidence unfold, offered any other interpretation in public or private.

In the absence of all the facts, I was called upon to resign 14 years ago, when I became the Chief Constable of Merseyside. I really welcome the disclosure of all the facts that can be known about the Hillsborough tragedy because I have absolutely nothing to hide.

– Sir Norman Bettison

UK Editor Lucy Manning:

Sir Norman, who was an off-duty South Yorkshire Police inspector when he attended the game, also defended his role in the aftermath of Hillsborough tragedy on April 15 1989, saying: "I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered."

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Sir Norman Bettison, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police gives a statement in 2008. Credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive

Yesterday's report found that 164 police statements were altered, 116 of them to remove or alter "unfavourable" comments about the policing of the match and the disaster. The panel said:

The evidence shows conclusively that Liverpool fans neither caused nor contributed to the deaths of 96 men, women and children.

The families of the football supporters killed said the report had vindicated them and they pledged to carry on their fight by bringing criminal prosecutions against those they said should "hand their heads in shame".

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A Liverpool fan at Hillsborough after their FA Cup semi-final football match against Nottingham Forest. Credit: John Giles/PA Wire

Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, who lost her son James, 18, in the tragedy, called on Sir Norman to resign after his statement.

Quite frankly I am quite angry about it and I think he should resign.

He should do the decent thing and resign, no matter what he is saying in his statement today.

He is still saying the fans made the job more difficult for the police. He ought to be ashamed of himself. Do the decent thing Mr Bettison - resign.

– Margaret Aspinall

Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson added his voice to the apologies made to the Hillsborough families and survivors by saying he was "very, very sorry".

Mr Johnson apologised for an editorial article in The Spectator magazine when he was editor in 2004 about Liverpool fans being partly to blame for the Hillsborough disaster. The article said:

(The Hillsborough tragedy) is no excuse for Liverpool's failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon.

The police became a convenient scapegoat, and the Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident.

David Cameron's official spokesman said any decision on whether former Conservative MP Sir Irvine Patnick would have his knighthood stripped would be a matter for the independent Forfeiture Committee.

Sir Irvine Patnick Hillsborough
Sir Irvine Patnick receiving his knighthood at Buckingham Palace. Credit: Martin Keene/PA Wire

Earlier, MP Mark Durkan said police officers and other officials who were recognised with an honour following the Hillsborough disaster but implicated in the cover-up should be stripped of their awards.

In a question to Commons Leader Andrew Lansley, Mr Durkan said:

Can you tell us when and from whom we may expect a statement indicating that the Forfeiture Committee is going to look at the honours attached to the names of anyone implicated in the scandalous syndicate of deceit exposed yesterday?

Mr Lansley said he would ask a Government colleague to write to Mr Durkan if the committee decided to review honours handed out to those involved.