Police chief quits over Hillsborough tragedy role

April 15, 1989 file photo, showing police, stewards and supporters as they tend to wounded soccer supporters on the field at Hillsborough Stadium, in Sheffield, England. Photo / AP
April 15, 1989 file photo, showing police, stewards and supporters as they tend to wounded soccer supporters on the field at Hillsborough Stadium, in Sheffield, England. Photo / AP

A British police chief facing growing pressure over his role in the aftermath of the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster resigned overnight.

Norman Bettison quit as chief constable of West Yorkshire Police ahead of a meeting which was to consider his role in the investigation into the tragedy in which 96 Liverpool fans died at an FA Cup semi-final.

He said he was standing down "not because of any allegations about the past, but because I share the view that this has become a distraction to policing in West Yorkshire now and in the future''.

Bettison, a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the time of the disaster in the Sheffield-based stadium, had been due to retire in March.

He is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) following a damning report published in September which revealed that police officers' statements about what happened had been altered.

In his resignation statement, Bettison also dismissed claims made by Liverpool lawmaker Maria Eagle this week that he had been asked to help "concoct'' the police's version of what happened at the stadium, shifting the blame onto Liverpool fans.

Using parliamentary privilege, Eagle quoted from a letter by a fan who at been at Hillsborough and who said Bettison later told him police were trying to fabricate a story about Liverpool fans at the game being drunk.

Bettison said in his statement: "The suggestion that I would say to a passing acquaintance that I was deployed as part of a team tasked to 'concoct a false story of what happened', is both incredible and wrong.

"That isn't what I was tasked to do, and I did not say that.''

Bettison added that he would give the investigations his full cooperation, adding: "These processes should help to separate facts from speculation.''

Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, welcomed Bettison's resignation but called for his pension to be frozen while the IPCC inquiry takes place.

"I'm absolutely delighted he's gone but as far as I am concerned he should have been sacked,'' said Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the crush.

"I would now like to know what payments and pension he's going to get. Any financial benefits should be frozen until the outcome of the investigation into the cover-up.

"This is not the end of it, the next thing is to make sure his role is properly investigated.''

- AFP

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