Bettison accused during debate

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MP Maria Eagle and Sir Norman Bettison

A new witness claims that the most senior serving police officer connected to the Hillsborough disaster admitted to him that South Yorkshire Police were trying to blame fans for the tragedy, in evidence disclosed in Parliament last night

Maria Eagle, MP for Garston & Halewood, made the revelations using parliamentary privilege during the House of Commons debate over the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report published last month.

She said that John Barry claims he was told by Sir Norman Bettison that South Yorkshire Police were “trying to concoct a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk” and that they were trying to break down the gate.

Bettison, who was at Hillsborough off-duty during the disaster, is currently the head of the West Yorkshire force though he has recently announced his retirement next year.

He has denied playing any part in the cover-up and is currently under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Eagle also claimed that she had seen a statement from a survivor after they were pressured by West Midlands Police into changing their account of the events in 1989.

Ms Eagle’s was one of dozens of statements from MPs during the historic five-and-a-half-hour debate on the findings of the report which disclosed an inadequate emergency response to the disaster which killed 96 Liverpool fans, and a police cover-up and campaign to smear supporters in its aftermath.

Stephen Mosley, MP for Chester, who also condemned the alteration of statements and “bullying” by West Midlands Police, told the harrowing story of Kevin Williams, whose mother Anne has campaigned for several years for a fresh inquest into the death of her son.

He said: “The truth about Kevin Williams has never been in doubt.

“The Attorney General must deliver on his promise. The previous inquests are known to be false and must be quashed by law. After 23 years the truth has finally been revealed, and now it’s time for justice.”

The Hillsborough disaster, April 15th 1989

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that ‘fast-track’ legislation to provide the power to force retired officers to give evidence to any inquiry would be considered. She also described the panel’s findings as “shocking and disturbing” and led the tributes to the families of the victims.

She said: “Their persistence and indomitability has been an inspiration and I offer them the commitment the government will do everything in its power to move them from truth to justice”

The Home Secretary also told the House of Commons that the Bishop of Liverpool, Right Reverend James Jones, will remain an advisor on issues involving Hillsborough.

Labour’s Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee said that 304 of 1444 officers’ names received by the Independent Police Complaints Commission are still serving with the South Yorkshire force.

The panel’s report brought about an apology from the Prime Minister and announcements from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that prosecutions could be made, and that serving police officers who were at Hillsborough in 1989 will be investigated.

It has also led to the Attorney General announcing he will apply to the High Court for the initial verdict inquest of ‘accidental death’ to be quashed. This is expected to be done before the end of the year.

MPs criticised senior South Yorkshire Police officers on the day, the amending of police statements in the aftermath, and The Sun newspaper for its coverage of the disaster.

Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said that families should not have to pay for any legal action that comes about as a result of the report.

She said: “For 23 years the families and survivors have been let down and we owe it to them to do ensure that we do everything possible so they finally get the justice they deserve.

Hillsborough Memorial at Anfield

Steve Rotheram, MP for Liverpool Walton said: “It has taken 8,591 days to get here, but we finally have what the families and the people of my great city have known all along: the undeniable truth.

“Many, many parts of the report are harrowing for the families and the survivors, but none more so than that numerous fans were alive after the arbitrary 3:15 cut off point, could have survived.

“One thing is for sure. The 97th victim of Hillsborough, is not Kelvin MacKenzie and how dare he claim victim status.”

Rosie Cooper, MP for West Lancashire, called for the Football Association to be held to account for holding the game at a ground without a valid safety certificate.

She said: “They chose the venue, they allowed for it to take place at a ground without a safety certificate. When is the FA going to be held into account within the scope of the investigation and inquiries?”

Andy Burnham MP, who had a key involvement in setting up the Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2009, echoed many of the sentiments of MPs, and he urged Lord Justice Leveson to call the Hillsborough families to his inquiry into media ethics over their experience with the media.

He said: “At last the entire country can see what Liverpool has lived with for 23 years and finally Parliament has woken up to the full horror of Hillsborough.

“The panel’s report is an opportunity to ask the most searching questions of ourselves. No political party did anything like enough to help and we had a political class that looked down upon them.”

Jeremy Hunt MP, the Health Secretary, apologised on behalf of the NHS for the role of the ambulance service.

“The panel found significant failings in the actions of South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service. There was no systematic assessment of the victims, there was a lack of basic equipment.”


About Ian Bolland, JMU Journalism