Sir Norman Bettison left the police service in October 2012
Sir Norman Bettison left the police service in October 2012

Britain's police watchdog has ruled former West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettison could have been dismissed for his actions following the release of a damning report on the Hillsborough disaster.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) says Bettison has a case to answer for "discreditable conduct and abuse of authority", after attempting to influence his own police force as they considered how to deal with the criticisms levelled at him in the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report last September.

West Yorkshire Police Authority (WYPA) considered referring Bettison to the IPCC following HIP's claims that he attempted to cover up police inadequacies and propagate misinformation in the immediate aftermath of the disaster in 1989.

Bettison was chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the time of Hillsborough, and played a key role in the subsequent investigation into the tragedy.

The new IPCC report focuses on the contact between Bettison and WYPA chief executive Fraser Sampson, as well as the Authority's chairman Mark Burns-Williamson. It claims Bettison made no attempt to stop the IPCC referral last year, but manipulated and managed its perception "for his own self-interest".

These actions, if proven, would amount to gross misconduct and justify Bettison's dismissal from the police.

No disciplinary action

Bettison resigned as chief constable of West Yorkshire Police in October 2012, just a month after the publication of the HIP report, and so will not face disciplinary action from the IPCC. However he remains part of the watchdog's ongoing investigation into the original South Yorkshire Police cover-up in 1989.

IPCC deputy chair Deborah Glass said: "The Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath have become synonymous in the public consciousness with allegations of police attempts to cover-up the truth, manipulate messages and deflect blame.

"Sir Norman is facing investigation in relation to allegations that he played a key part in this. We do not pre-judge the findings of that investigation.

"However, given the effect that those allegations have had on the public perception of him and policing generally, his attempts to manipulate and manage the perception of the referral of complaints about him, for his own self-interest, is particularly concerning.

"It was the IPCC's view at the start of the investigation, as it was the view of his Police Authority, that Sir Norman's actions, if proven, fell so far short of what is expected of a Chief Constable that dismissal would be justified. The evidence uncovered during the investigation supports that view.

"While we cannot bring this case to misconduct proceedings, we can publish the evidence and our conclusions, so that the public can judge for themselves. This case should also serve as a salutary reminder to chief officers everywhere of how much public confidence in policing is damaged when the conduct of leaders is called into question."

The chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, Jon Christopher, said: "Clearly Sir Norman is no longer a serving officer. It is now open to the public debate to see what, if anything, can be done against him if that's the will of the public."

Damning report

The HIP report revealed 116 witnesses statements were modified by police in the aftermath of the tragedy in a bid to pass the blame for what happened onto "drunken Liverpool fans".

Bettison has always denied taking part in the cover-up. "I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered," he said follwoing the report being published.

The chief constable caused further upset to the families of the victims when he suggested Liverpool fans' behaviour on the day of the Hillsborough tragedy had made the polices' job harder than it needed to be, but added they were not to blame for the deaths.