Hillsborough inquests: Police boss 'asked to concoct story'

Norman Bettison Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Norman Bettison has been giving evidence at the inquests in Warrington, Cheshire

A former South Yorkshire Police chief told a man who witnessed the Hillsborough disaster he was asked to "concoct a story" blaming drunk Liverpool fans, the inquests heard.

Sir Norman Bettison, then a chief inspector, was on a business course with John Barry in 1989, jurors heard.

Mr Barry told the jury he was "stunned" and "staggered" at what Sir Norman said when they spoke in a pub in Sheffield.

Sir Norman later gave evidence and denied making the alleged comments.

He agreed he had spoken to fellow students in the pub twice during the fortnight after the disaster in a "typical bar-room conversation" but said: "The comments that have been ascribed to me I would not make in a private or public situation."


Inquests are being held into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans following a terrace crush at the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

Mr Barry, who worked as a civil servant at the time and had attended the game as a supporter, told the court he and Sir Norman met at the Fleur de Lys pub one evening in May 1989.

He said: "Norman said: 'I've been asked by my senior officers to pull together the South Yorkshire Police evidence for the inquiry and we're going to try and concoct a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk and that we were afraid they were going to break down the gates, so we decided to open them'."

Asked how sure he was that those were the words used by Sir Norman, Mr Barry said: "Absolutely certain."

Image copyright Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption Ninety-six fans died following crushing at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 1989

Mr Barry had seen the disaster unfolding from his seat in the West Stand.

He told the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) he was "gobsmacked" by the alleged revelation, because Sir Norman "knew the devastating effect that Hillsborough had had on me", the court heard.

The statement said: "I thought 'why are you saying this to me?'. He knew I had been at the Leppings Lane end and he had seen the bodies piling up and had been totally traumatised by it."

Mr Barry said: "I was asked about it years later - why did he? I thought maybe he felt that it was a feather in his cap and an indication of how well he was doing in his job."

Sir Norman went on to become the chief constable of both the Merseyside and West Yorkshire Police forces.

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Paul Greaney QC, questioning Mr Barry on behalf of Sir Norman, questioned why "an intelligent and experienced police officer should admit to you behaviour that was at the very least career-ending?"

Mr Barry answered: "I would have thought it unlikely but it happened."

Mr Greaney also said Sir Norman had announced on 24 April 1989 he was no longer going to attend the course because he had been seconded "to a team working on the disaster" and said he did not attend a "single class" during May or June.

Mr Barry replied: "My recollection is he did attend at least one class when he told me what he told me."

He also rejected a suggestion that his "traumatised state" may have confused him.

The court heard how in 2009 Mr Barry contacted Maria Eagle MP after reading a newspaper article about comments she had made in the House of Commons naming Sir Norman as "being involved in a black propaganda unit".

The pub conversation was eventually relayed in Parliament by Ms Eagle following the September 2012 publication of the Hillsborough Independent panel report, and he went on to give media interviews.

Image copyright Julia Quenzler
Image caption An artist's impression of Sir Norman Bettison giving evidence at the inquests

Mark Ellaby, who attended the same MBA course as Mr Barry, also gave evidence.

He said: "I remember Mr Bettison saying that he had just been seconded to an internal team in South Yorkshire Police, who were tasked with making sure that South Yorkshire Police bore no blame for the Hillsborough disaster and it was all the fault of the drunk Liverpool supporters."

Mr Greaney said: "What I'm suggesting is that Mr Bettison never suggested at any stage that the police were going to attempt to paint themselves out of the picture and that you've got that wrong."

Giving evidence himself, Sir Norman spoke about the pub conversations.

He said: "There was a wide-ranging debate, pretty much without sufficient knowledge and understanding, but there was a debate going on around the time about the potential causes of the disaster and I can recall that there were people in the room who had extreme views about football fans in general and the football fans on this occasion."

The inquests have previously heard how, in the minutes after the disaster, match commander Mr Duckenfield lied about fans forcing their way in to the stadium, when the truth was that he had himself ordered an exit gate to be opened.

Sir Norman said: "I did offer a view that there may be a reason why the gate needed to be opened, but that was as far as it went.

"I don't think the precise words can be recalled after 26 years. I was attending as a student and a professional police officer. The comments that have been ascribed to me I would not make in a private or public situation."

The inquests, held in Warrington, Cheshire, continue.

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