'Why I resigned over Norman Bettison's appointment as Merseyside chief constable' - Cllr Steve Foulkes (From Wirral Globe)
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'Why I resigned over Norman Bettison's appointment as Merseyside chief constable' - Cllr Steve Foulkes
A PROMINENT Wirral councillor who resigned from Merseyside police authority when it appointed Sir Norman Bettison chief constable said today “I got it right.”
Yesterday’s shocking revelations of South Yorkshire police’s lies and cover-up over the Hillsborough disaster sounded an echo back to1998 when Mr Bettison was interviewed for Merseyside’s top police job.
The report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel showed police and emergency services made "strenuous attempts" to deflect blame for the disaster on to innocent fans.
Their three-year inquiry discovered that more than 100 statements taken by police were doctored to remove evidence which painted the force in a bad light.
96 people lost their lives as a result of the April 15 1989 disaster.
Twelve of the dead were from Wirral.
Mr Bettison came from the South Yorkshire force and in 1998 had to deny a Merseyside MP's claims he was involved in a "black propaganda campaign" to the conceal the police’s true role in the tragedy.
Former Labour leader of Wirral Council Steve Foulkes was one of three councillors who quit the police authority when it made the controversial decision to appoint Bettison.
He told the Globe today: “You don’t always get things right in life, but this was one thing I absolutely did get right.
“We didn’t have the facts then that emerged yesterday, but I had seen enough to be concerned about his role in Hillsborough and I also got the impression he was completely out of touch with the depth of feeling about the disaster here on Merseyside.
“This was enough to convince me he was not the man for the job.
“When the authority voted to appoint him I was angry. I had to walk away.
"I believed then that it was the right thing to do - and I believe it even more strongly now.
“The things we’ve learned about South Yorkshire police from the Hillsborough panel's report make me doubly angry today, and those former colleagues on the authority who put their hands up in favour of Mr Bettison will have to look to their own consciences.”
Allegations about Bettison first surfaced in a speech to Parliament by Liverpool Garston MP Maria Eagle, twin sister of Wallasey MP Angela.
Her claims centred around his role in the South Yorkshire police unit which responded to Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry.
In the House of Commons in May of 1998, Ms Eagle said the unit's purpose was to support a “black propaganda campaign which aimed to deflect the blame for what had happened on to anyone other than themselves”.
Sir Norman has always denied any wrong-doing.
He told the BBC in November of 1998 that his role in the Hillsborough investigation was running a "mail room" for West Midlands police who were conducting an independent investigation.
Part of that role was to remove "hearsay" and "emotional baggage" from evidence and to keep senior officers informed of progress so that safety procedures at matches could be improved.
Relatives of Hillsborough victims collected a petition signed by 15,000 people calling for the chief constable's removal.
Mr Bettison became Sir Norman Bettison when he received a Knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 2006 for services to policing.
And in December the same year he was appointed chief constable of West Yorkshire where he remains.
Trevor Hicks, whose teenage daughters Sarah and Victoria were among the 96 lives lost, said Mr Bettison should “take a look at his own position”.
Speaking after details of the independent panel’s report were revealed, Mr Hicks said Sir Norman should go.
“If he has anything about him, he will look at his position,” Mr Hicks said.
“If he is anything of a man he will stand down and scurry up a drainpipe somewhere.”
He also said it “beggared belief” Mr Bettison was handed the reins as Merseyside chief constable.
Mr Hicks, a member of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said it would now press for criminal action against those involved in the disaster.
In a statement today, Mr Bettison denied his role in an internal inquiry team from South Yorkshire police was to create black propaganda and transfer blame for the tragedy on to the fans.
Instead, he said, the review team was charged with "piecing together what had taken place".
He said fans’ behaviour at the Hillsborough disaster made the job of the police harder than it needed to be – this view is not supported by the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
He made clear he had not been part of a unit which was responsible for doctoring police statements.
"In 1989, I was a chief inspector in a non-operational role at headquarters. Four days after the disaster (and after all the vile newspaper coverage had been written) I was one of several officers pulled together by the then deputy chief constable, Peter Hays, to support him in piecing together what had taken place at the event.
"By that time, the chief constable, Peter Wright, had handed over the formal investigation of the tragedy to an independent police force, West Midlands police.
"It was West Midlands police that presented evidence before the Taylor inquiry.
"The South Yorkshire deputy chief constable's team, under the leadership of Chief Superintendent Wain, was a parallel activity to inform chief officers of facts rather than rely on the speculation rampant at that time.
"Another team was later created to work with the solicitors who were representing South Yorkshire police at the Taylor inquiry, to vet statements from South Yorkshire police officers that were intended to be presented to the inquiry … I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered.
"Two South Yorkshire police teams have been conflated in the minds of some commentators."
Mr Bettison said he sat through every day of the Taylor inquiry, published in August 1989, and briefed the South Yorkshire chief constable and deputy on the proceedings.
"These briefings acknowledged and accepted the responsibility of the force in the disaster. The evidence was overwhelming," he said.
"Shortly after the conclusion of the Taylor inquiry, I was posted to other duties.
"I had nothing further to do with the subsequent coroner's inquests and proceedings, other than occasional advice because of my knowledge of the evidence presented to the Taylor inquiry."
South Yorkshire chief constable David Crompton said yesterday he was profoundly sorry for the way the force had failed at Hillsborough: "I am doubly sorry for the injustice that followed and I apologise to the families of the 96 and Liverpool fans.
"South Yorkshire Police is a very different place in 2012 from what it was 23 years ago and we will be fully open and transparent in helping to find answers to the questions posed by the panel today."