LIVERPOOL: The families of the Hillsborough victims insisted after studying the independent report that now the truth was out it was time for the cause of justice to be served – even 23 years after the tragic events of May 1989 in Sheffield.
This includes consideration of pushing for possible criminal charges over alleged perversion of the course of justice as well as possible actions under laws governing corporate responsibility. Three of the relatives of victims fainted on learning from a private briefing by the inquiry panel that up to 41 of the victims might have been saved had an effective emergency operation been undertaken.
The families have said they want one of the country’s most senior police officers to resign over his role in the police’s “black propaganda.”
Trevor Hicks, chairman of the families support group, said Sir Norman Bettison, currently chief constable of West Yorkshire police and a former chief constable of Merseyside, should quit. Hicks added: “If he is anything of a man, he will stand down and scurry up a drainpipe somewhere.”
As a South Yorkshire chief inspector and later superintendent, he was a member of the internal review group or liaison unit on Hillsborough and, as such, the families say he had a key role in presenting the police in the best light and blaming the fans for the disaster. Labour MP Maria Eagle told parliament that the “liaison unit orchestrated what can only be described as a black propaganda campaign.”
Bettison is responsible for overseeing domestic extremism. After his role in the Hillsborough review, he was appointed in 1998 to be chief constable of Merseyside, a move condemned then and now by the Hillsborough families as “appalling and insensitive”.
The Hillsborough report pointed up Bettison as a key figure in a meeting with the police federation and MP Michael Shersby, who was supportive of the police’s case. Bettison presented the meeting with a heavily edited video of the disaster – 29 minutes “culled” by him, the report states, from 65 hours of footage. It was accompanied by commentary from Bettison.
The meeting, the report states, was held for the South Yorkshire police federation to present evidence to Shersby that would be helpful for him to present to parliament when the Hillsborough disaster was debated. At one point the report says Bettison’s commentary stated that: “Perimeter fences were the result of hooliganism – walls demolished, missile attacks on police officers, supporters climbing perimeter fences, pitch invasion”.
The report stated that the video presentation showed the build-up of fans at the turnstiles, estimated at 2.39pm as between 2,000 and 6,000 people. The meeting was informed that the crowd was “massively uncooperative”.
In fact, within weeks, Tony Judge, publicity director for the police federation, published a two-page review of the meeting with Shersby under the headline “Hillsborough – the police who dispute Taylor’s verdict”. The subheading read: “The anger still felt by ordinary police men and women who consider the inquiry report has whitewashed the hooligan element among Liverpool followers.”
Bettison has always denied his role in any black propaganda. When he was appointed Merseyside chief constable, he said the allegations were “simply untrue” and invited those who made the allegations to “meet me, ask me anything that you want to ask me”.
He defined his role in the Hillsborough investigation as running a “mail room” for West Midlands police who were conducting an independent investigation. Part of that role, he said was to remove “hearsay” and “emotional baggage” from evidence, and keep senior officers informed of progress so that safety at football matches could be improved.
He made no comment on the call for his resignation.
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