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Hillsborough victims' families welcome resignation of Norman Bettison
THE families of the 96 Hillsborough victims have welcomed the resignation of under-fire West Yorkshire Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison.
Chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group Margaret Aspinall said she was "delighted" at the latest development following the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report last month.
Mr Bettison, who was a South Yorkshire police inspector at the time of the tragedy, handed in his resignation ahead of a meeting scheduled to consider his role in the aftermath of the 1989 disaster.
He had been under increasing pressure since the Panel’s report was published and he is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
Today's special meeting of the police authority followed new claims that Sir Norman, a former Merseyside chief constable, had boasted about being asked to help "concoct" South Yorkshire Police's version of events following the Hillsborough disaster, which claimed 96 lives in 1989. Twelve of the dead were from Wirral.
These claims were raised by Merseyside MP and shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle in the Commons on Monday.
She quoted a letter from former civil servant John Barry that detailed comments he said Sir Norman made when they were both part-time students in Sheffield.
And Ms Aspinall believes Sir Norman’s resignation will signal the first of many to leave their posts.
She said: "We are delighted to hear that he has resigned and the families will be very pleased.
"I am hoping now that if the IPCC investigation goes on to find that he did play a part then his pension should be stopped.
"We have been proven right and I am grateful that he has left but we have got to wait and see what the IPCC say as all we have at the moment are allegations.”
Ms Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died at Hillsborough, also paid tribute to the wider community for supporting the bereaved families’ plight over the last 23 years.
She said: "It has been one hell of a journey for us all and I am so glad this is happening now.
"I think there’s a lot of people sitting uncomfortably now and having sleepless nights, just like we have done for the past 23 years.
"The ground work has been done by the Panel and now the IPCC have 1,400 allegations to look into."
Telling how she has kept her campaign going, Ms Aspinall added: "We have always known there was a massive injustice and we knew it wasn’t simply an accident but most of all it is the love for the victims that we have always had.
"My love for my son is still so strong and that is what motivates me to keep going and calling for the truth."
In a statement, Sir Norman said: "I wish to make four points, and hope that each will be fairly reported.
"First, and foremost, the Hillsborough tragedy, 23 years ago, left 96 families bereaved and countless others injured and affected by it.
"I have always felt the deepest compassion and sympathy for the families, and I recognise their longing to understand exactly what happened on that April afternoon.
"I have never blamed the fans for causing the tragedy.
"Secondly, I refute the report of a conversation 23 years ago.
"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.
"Thirdly, there is a due process to deal with any allegation through the IPCC and the criminal law. I remain consistent in my desire to assist those enquiries to the full, both now and in the future. These processes should help to separate facts from speculation.
"Fourthly, I sought to remain in post to address those allegations. It now appears that that will take some time.
"The police authority, and some of the candidates in the forthcoming PCC elections, have made it clear that they wish me to go sooner.
"I do so, 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.
"I have therefore agreed to retire within the statutory notice period. It has been a privilege to serve the public as a police officer for more than 40 years and I wish the force and the police service every success for the future."
The chief was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission over claims that he gave misleading information in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster and that he tried to influence West Yorkshire Police Authority's decision-making process in relation to the referral.
Sir Norman, 56, had said he will retire from his £225,000 post on March 31 next year, despite being recently granted an extension to his contract.