Sir Norman Bettison: 'I have nothing to hide' on Hillsborough operation

Sir Norman Bettison Hillsborough
Sir Norman Bettison in Belfast in 2008. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Archive

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

Sir Norman, the current Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, faced calls to quit following an independent report into the tragedy in which 96 people were killed.

In a statement released on West Yorkshire Police's website, he said:

I really welcome the disclosure of all the facts that can be known because I have absolutely nothing to hide.

– Sir Norman Bettison

The report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel laid bare a shocking cover-up from police who attempted to shift the blame on to the 96 victims.

The 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 unfolding disaster.

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

Sir Norman, who was involved in an internal inquiry held in the aftermath of the disaster, was an off duty police officer when he attended the game in 1989. He said:

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.

Here is Sir Norman's statement in full:

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.

It is against that backcloth that any documents with my name attached, out of the 400,000 revealed, must be seen. For example, the reference to preparation for the contributions hearing (the Court case to recover contributions to damages from Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and the stadium engineers who were also found, by Taylor, to be at fault) was to position South Yorkshire Police's liability against the Football Club, the stadium engineers and the Council which issued a defective safety certificate it was NOT to apportion any blame whatsoever to the fans.

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.

I read the 395 page report from cover to cover last night and that remains my position. The panel, in my view, has produced a piece of work that will stand the test of time and scrutiny. Whilst not wishing to become a conducting rod for all the genuine and justified hurt and anguish, I would invite anyone to do the same as me and read the document and the papers on line. They document, in detail, my personal actions in respect of the Hillsborough tragedy, which were, in summary, as follows:

I purchased a ticket and was an off-duty spectator at the match. As soon as I realised the unfolding tragedy, I put myself on duty, giving immediate assistance behind the south stand. I later set up a receiving centre, at a local police station, for supporters who had become separated from friends and family (see my contemporaneous statement on line).

In 1989, I was a Chief Inspector in a non-operational role at Headquarters. Four days after the disaster (and after all the vile newspaper coverage had been written) I was one of several officers pulled together by the then Deputy Chief Constable, Peter Hays, to support him in piecing together what had taken place at the event.

By that time, the Chief Constable, Peter Wright, had handed over the formal investigation of the tragedy to an independent Police Force, West Midlands Police. It was West Midlands Police that presented evidence before the Taylor Inquiry. The South Yorkshire Deputy Chief Constable's team, under the leadership of Chief Superintendent Wain, was a parallel activity to inform Chief Officers of facts rather than rely on the speculation rampant at that time.

Another team was later created (see Hillsborough Independent Panel Report pages 54 and 55; page 186 (particularly para 2.6.35 which distinguishes the two separate teams; and page 319), to work with the solicitors who were representing South Yorkshire Police at the Taylor Inquiry, to vet statements from South Yorkshire Police Officers that were intended to be presented to the Inquiry (see Hillsborough Independent Panel Report Part 2, Chapter 11). I was not a member of that team. I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered. Two South Yorkshire Police teams have been conflated in the minds of some commentators.

I subsequently sat through each day of the Taylor Inquiry, briefing the South Yorkshire Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable on a regular basis. These briefings acknowledged and accepted the responsibility of the Force in the disaster. The evidence was overwhelming.

Shortly after the conclusion of the Taylor Inquiry, I was posted to other duties. I had nothing further to do with the subsequent Coroners Inquests and proceedings, other than occasional advice because of my knowledge of the evidence presented to the Taylor Inquiry.

– Sir Norman Bettison