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  1. ITV Report

Hillsborough families seek review after charges dropped against police chief Sir Norman Bettison

Families of Hillsborough victims will call for a review into the decision to drop the charges against the former police chief Sir Norman Bettison.

The former Merseyside and West Yorkshire chief constable had been charged with four counts of misconduct in a public office, all relating to alleged lies he told about his role in the aftermath of the 1989 tragedy in which 96 Liverpool supporters died.

But, at a Preston Crown Court hearing before judge Sir Peter Openshaw on Tuesday, Sarah Whitehouse QC, for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said the proceedings would be discontinued.

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The Hillsborough Family Support Group said: "We have grave concerns about the handling of this case by the CPS and can confirm that we will be exercising our right to an independent review under the Right to Review scheme."

Under the victims' right of review process, those with a "significant" interest in the case have three months to seek a review of the decision.

Speaking outside the court, Sir Norman Bettison thanked his family, friends and legal team, and said people who "didn't really know anything about me or the facts, rushed to judgment and predetermined my guilt".

"There may be a time to say more about the experience of the last six years, but today is not that day," he added

He refused to answer questions from reporters.

Steve Kelly, whose brother Michael died in the disaster, said: "I'm absolutely devastated. I feel as if I've been beaten up this morning."

Sir Norman, 62, who was a chief inspector at the time of the tragedy at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15 1989, had been due to face trial next year.

He was accused of untruthfully describing his role in the South Yorkshire Police response as “peripheral” in a comment to then chief inspector of constabulary Sir David O’Dowd, in 1998, when Sir Norman applied for the job of chief constable in Merseyside.

He was also accused of lying to Merseyside Police Authority when he said he had never attempted to shift blame for the disaster “on to the shoulders of Liverpool supporters”.

Tributes placed on the Shankly Gates next to the Hillsborough Memorial at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium Credit: Dave Thompson/PA

Sir Norman, of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was alleged to have lied in a statement issued on September 13 2012, following the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, when he said he had never offered any interpretation other than that the behaviour of Liverpool fans did not cause the disaster.

He was also accused of misconduct over a statement released the following day in which he said he had never “besmirched” Liverpool fans.

Sir Norman was charged after the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) carried out the biggest criminal investigation into alleged police misconduct in England and Wales.

Tributes left two days after the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989 Credit: PA

Margaret Aspinall, speaking on behalf of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said the group believes "the wrong charge was brought in the first place", and it will use the review process to argue the point "strongly".

We know how our supporters will feel about this decision and, of course, we all share all of those feelings. There are so many things we would like to say about the justice process in this country but can’t so as not to prejudice the other trials which are proceeding. We ask everyone to show the same restraint.

The Hillsborough families have waited almost 30 years for justice - not just in terms of what happened on the day itself but also what has happened since then. It is our clear view that there must be accountability for all we deem wrong.

We have faced many set-backs before and sometimes it is hard to find the strength to keep going. But we haven’t come this far to give in now and we will fight on until justice is done.

– Margaret Aspinall on behalf of the Hillsborough Family Support Group

The CPS said there have been "significant developments which have affected the available evidence" since the charge was made against Bettison.

Two witnesses changed their evidence, and a third died, the CPS said.

In a statement it added: "The collective impact of these developments means there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction. I appreciate this news will be disappointing for the families and the CPS will meet with them in person to explain the decision."

In a joint statement, politicians Steve Rotheram, Andy Burnham, Maria Eagle, Alison McGovern and Derek Twigg said: "We are disappointed to hear this news and we fully support the decision of the families to seek a review.

"As long-standing supporters of the campaign for justice, our thoughts today are with the bereaved families and survivors of the Hillsborough disaster, still re-living that day and its aftermath almost 30 years on. We will continue to support them in any way we can.

"Given the on-going criminal prosecutions, we have nothing further to add at this time."