Hillsborough officer Sir Norman Bettison 'should be suspended'

Sir Norman Bettison
Image caption The IPCC is probing allegations that Sir Norman Bettison provided misleading information

The chief constable of West Yorkshire Police - an inspector in South Yorkshire at the time of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster - should be suspended, a Merseyside MP has said.

Maria Eagle spoke after the Independent Police Commission announced an inquiry into the policing of the tragedy.

She said she was surprised Sir Norman Bettison - whose conduct is being probed by the IPCC - was not suspended.

Sir Norman, who is retiring in March, has said he has "nothing to hide".

He has been referred to the IPCC over allegations he provided misleading information after the tragedy.

And he is under investigation for allegations that he "attempted to influence the decision-making process of the West Yorkshire Police Authority in connection with the referral that they had made".

Statement apology

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Media captionPete Weatherby QC: "After 23 years of failed inquiries, there's a degree of scepticism"

He had faced calls to resign following the Independent Hillsborough Panel Report into the tragedy which laid bare a police cover-up attempting to shift the blame onto victims.

He then released a statement last month in which he said: "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."

He apologised a day later, saying Liverpool fans were "in no way to blame" for the disaster and that he was sorry if he had "caused any further upset".

Earlier this month he announced he planned to retire on 31 March and he hoped his decision would "enable the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to fully investigate allegations that have been raised about my integrity".

Ms Eagle, Labour MP for Garston and Halewood, told BBC News she was concerned that "when he retires, because he was chief constable of Merseyside at one point, people of Merseyside, including the bereaved families and those who've been traumatised on the day, will be paying his pension, through our council tax".

"Now that's not something that I think is right," she added.

She said she would be taking the issue up with the home secretary.

Andy Burnham, Labour MP for Leigh in Greater Manchester said retirement "shouldn't be a route to escape full accountability".

He said it was "a matter for the investigating authorities" to decide whether Sir Norman should continue in his role while the inquiry is ongoing.

"There was an orchestrated campaign to blame the victims and survivors of a terrible tragedy. We now know that to be true and there has to be full accountability for that," he said.

'Carried the ghost'

On Friday, the IPCC police watchdog said it would look at whether there was a criminal cover-up by South Yorkshire Police of failings by the force.

Image caption Ninety-six Liverpool football fans died after a crush at Sheffield Wednesday's ground on 15 April 1989

Last month's report revealed 164 police statements were altered - 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about the policing of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Sheffield stadium.

Both serving and former officers would be investigated, the IPCC said.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, meanwhile, said a separate inquiry would also review evidence relating to how the fans died, which could lead to charges of manslaughter through gross negligence.

Martin Harding, a retired police superintendent involved in other investigations of police forces, told the BBC: "We won't know the full picture until we speak to every single person who was involved on the day, at the scene and at the periphery."

Many police officers "have carried the ghost" of Hillsborough with them, he said, and want the officers responsible for the cover-up brought to justice.

Pete Weatherby QC, the lawyer representing many of the Hillsborough families, said his clients welcomed the investigation but were sceptical "after 23 years of failed enquiries".

"The families should be involved and kept updated about it. That is probably the remaining concern about it. It may be the biggest investigation in the IPCC history, but it needs to be the best also," he added.

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