Liverpool

Hillsborough: Sir Norman Bettison defends book on disaster

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Media captionSir Norman Bettison tells Newsnight: "My name is attached to lots of things, and lots of things are myths"

A former South Yorkshire Police chief inspector has defended his book about the Hillsborough disaster, insisting he is "entitled" to tell his story.

Sir Norman Bettison witnessed the 1989 disaster as a spectator.

He has denied being part of a "black propaganda unit" set up to blame Liverpool supporters and "concoct" a false version of events.

His book, Hillsborough Untold, is his attempt to "put the record straight", he said.

Ninety-six football fans died following crushing at Hillsborough stadium, in Sheffield, during an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Earlier this year inquests into the deaths concluded the victims were unlawfully killed.

Sir Norman, who previously claimed he was made a "scapegoat", said he wrote the book after being "vilified".

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Image caption Ninety-six football fans died following crushing at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield in 1989

He again denied being part any conspiracy to blame fans or change statements in the aftermath of the disaster.

"Most of what's been said about me is in the category of supposition, smear or just plain wrong facts," he said.

"I'm surely entitled, after all that's been written about me, to put my account there.

"People don't have to read it, they don't have to accept it. But it's there for anybody who's open minded enough and fair minded enough to look at it."

'Googling Grandpa'

Asked why he had dedicated the book to his grandchildren, he said he was concerned about the permanence of material on the internet and that "Googling Grandpa" might "bring all sorts of stuff back".

"If they should ever be troubled by the unanswered concern that grandpa was a criminal, that he was involved in shameful stuff in the aftermath of a tragedy of immense proportions, then they've got something to turn to and make their own mind up," he said.

Image copyright Hillsborough inquests
Image caption The sister of Hillsborough victim Vincent Fitzsimmons, pictured, accused Sir Norman of showing a lack of empathy and understanding

Dr Dorothy Griffiths, whose brother Vincent Fitzsimmons died at Hillsborough, labelled Sir Norman's comments "a disgusting and offensive attempt to make himself a victim".

She said: "It's all about him. I have to say that his arrogance and self-absorption [is] absolutely breathtaking.

"We've had the inquests and I'm just shocked that he's named his book Hillsborough Untold, because why didn't he tell all this at the inquests?

"Why has he now brought out this book about a so-called untold truth?"

Dr Griffiths said the retired officer had shown "a complete lack of empathy and understanding" for the families, victims and survivors of the disaster.

Barry Devonside, whose son Christopher Devonside died, accused Sir Norman of timing his book to maximise Christmas sales.

"That's Bettison," he said. "He's a man who looks after himself and there's nothing you can do about that.

"It's an insult. I hope very few people buy his book because as far as I'm concerned he has been a problem for the families."

Who is Sir Norman Bettison?

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In the wake of the disaster, Sir Norman was part of a police team that gathered evidence about what had happened for use at a public inquiry.

In 1998, he was controversially appointed Chief Constable of Merseyside Police.

He held the post of Chief Constable in Merseyside from 1998 to 2004 before becoming chief constable of the West Yorkshire force, before resigning in 2012.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel published its report in September 2012, revealing that 164 police statements by South Yorkshire Police officers were altered - 116 to remove or change negative comments about the policing of the 1989 FA Cup semi final.

The HIP report said the review and alteration of statements was part of an attempt by South Yorkshire Police to deflect criticism on to fans.

A day after the publication of the HIP report, Sir Norman said Liverpool fans had made the "police's job much harder than it needed to be" - a comment he told the inquests he "regretted" making.

He remains under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission regarding his alleged involvement in a police cover-up.

In an interview with BBC Radio Merseyside, Sir Norman said he had "concealed nothing".

He also defended police officers on duty on the day of the disaster.

There were many who "still bear a sense of guilt that they were impotent, that they couldn't do anything, that they didn't do anything to avert a catastrophe," he said.

Sir Norman said that while he does not believe he will ever repair his reputation, he hoped the book would give anyone "curious enough" the opportunity "to check the facts".

Image copyright Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption The 1989 match at Sheffield Wednesday's ground was called off six minutes after kick-off

Sir Norman also explained why he applied to be Merseyside Police's Chief Constable: "It was a perfect fit for my career. All my experience had been in city policing. Merseyside is a big force.

"Perhaps I didn't read the Merseyside temperature as well as I should've done, but there was nothing in my mind that connected a task I'd done 10 years ago with a job I applied for a decade later.

"There's a lot of misunderstanding that shows my appointment and application to Merseyside in a light different to what it was at the time.

"My honest response was I've done nothing wrong 10 years ago, I'm going to go there and prove it."

'Honest account'

He added: "Part of the reason I've written the book is the people who are deserving of the most honest account of what went on are the 96 families that were bereaved and have lost as a result of the events at Hillsborough."

Margaret Aspinall, whose son James Aspinall died, said she felt Sir Norman had been "too late" with his comments.

"The families have gone through torture. He says all this 27 years later, but it doesn't make any difference. And not only the families, the survivors as well," she said.

"Nothing he says impresses me whatsoever. I think he's made a big mistake. He's not done himself any favours."

The book's publishers, Biteback Publishing, said proceeds would be donated to charity.

A spokesman for the IPCC said: "We have read and assessed the book.

"We do not think it has a significant adverse impact on the ongoing criminal investigation and we would need to be able to demonstrate this in order to bring any legal action to prevent publication."

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