Sir Norman Bettison would have “a case to answer over gross misconduct” for his actions, a report has said after West Yorkshire Police referred him to The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
The report focuses on the issue of Bettison’s relationship with his police authority in the period after the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report in September last year.
However, the IPCC is powerless to take any further action due to Bettison’s resignation as Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police in October last year.
A separate IPCC investigation into his conduct at the time of Hillsborough in 1989 is still ongoing. Bettison has always denied being involved in any cover-up following the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.
In the report, the former Chief Constable of Merseyside is “on the balance of probability” accused of “trying to influence the decision making of the Police authority because he wanted the public to believe that he had referred himself to the IPCC, to avoid any public impression he had done something wrong”.
Bettison was accused in Parliament by the MP for Garston and Halewood, Maria Eagle, when the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report was debated in October of “trying to concoct a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk”.
The report says: “We have found Sir Norman has a case to answer for discreditable conduct and abuse of authority. Sir Norman put his own reputation as an individual above the need to ensure that a proper and transparent process was followed.”
Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the IPCC, said: “”The Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath have become synonymous in the public consciousness with allegations of police attempts to cover-up the truth, manipulate messages and deflect blame.
“Sir Norman is facing investigation in relation to allegations that he played a key part in this. We do not pre-judge the findings of that investigation.
“However, given the effect that those allegations have had on the public perception of him and policing generally, his attempts to manipulate and manage the perception of the referral of complaints about him, for his own self-interest, is particularly concerning. It is also conduct that falls far short of what should be expected of any Chief Constable.”
She added: “It was the IPCC’s view at the start of the investigation, as it was the view of his Police Authority, that Sir Norman’s actions, if proven, fell so far short of what is expected of a Chief Constable that dismissal would be justified. The evidence uncovered during the investigation supports that view.”
The report concludes, however, that the finding that Bettison has a case to answer “is not a finding that he is guilty”. A ‘guilty’ finding could only follow a formal misconduct hearing, and as Bettison is no longer a police officer, such a hearing will not be held.
In a statement, Bettison’s solicitor, John Harding, said the manner in which the investigation was handled “called into question the fairness of such a process.”
He said: “The decision that there is a case to answer is not a finding of guilt. This point is accepted, explicitly, in the foreword of the IPCC report and it therefore sits, uncomfortably, with some of the comments in the investigator’s report, made after an incomplete investigation.
“Sir Norman voluntarily attended interview, provided a written statement and invited the IPCC to interview witnesses. Since there can be no formal misconduct hearing my client is denied the opportunity to call those witnesses, which the IPCC declined to interview, and is denied the opportunity to put his case and challenge other evidence.”
There have been repeated calls for Sir Norman to be stripped of his knighthood and his honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University, made by Mayor Joe Anderson and Margaret Aspinall, chair of Hillsborough Family Support Group, among others.
A spokesperson for LJMU said: “The University is aware of the IPCC report made public today and will give careful consideration to the findings. A statement will be issued in due course.”
Additional reporting by Arild Skjaeveland