A former chief constable would have a case to answer for gross misconduct over his dealings with his police authority following the publication of a damning report on the Hillsborough disaster if he was still a serving officer, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has said.
Sir Norman Bettison attempted to influence public perception as the West Yorkshire Police Authority was deciding whether to refer him to the IPCC following the Hillsborough Independent Panel report last year, the IPCC has concluded.
It said: “While it was evident Sir Norman made no attempt to prevent the referral happening, the IPCC investigation concluded that he attempted to manipulate the public perception of the referral process for his own self-interest.”
The commission said its finding would justify Sir Norman's dismissal if he was still a serving chief constable.
The IPCC said it independently investigated his actions in relation to the process by which complaints about his involvement in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster were referred to the commission.
The former chief, who has always denied any wrongdoing, resigned from his post in West Yorkshire last year.
The IPCC said in a statement today: “The IPCC concluded Sir Norman had a case to answer for discreditable conduct and abuse of authority, breaches which, if proven in a disciplinary hearing, would amount to gross misconduct as they would justify dismissal.
“However, as Sir Norman left the police service in October 2012 he cannot face a disciplinary hearing in which the evidence could be tested.
“Instead, the IPCC is publishing its findings for the public to judge.”
An investigation into Sir Norman’s conduct in the period following the 1989 disaster, when he was involved in South Yorkshire Police’s inquiry into what happened, is ongoing.
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 is also conduct that falls far short of what should be expected of any chief constable.
“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.”
Sir Norman was a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the time of the disaster.
He attended the match at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground as a spectator but, after the tragedy, he was involved in the subsequent force investigation.
His involvement in that inquiry has provoked waves of allegations and criticism from the families of those who died and has dogged his career, which included a stint as the chief constable of Merseyside.
Following the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report last year, Sir Norman was referred to the IPCC over claims that he gave misleading information in the wake of the tragedy and that he tried to influence West Yorkshire Police Authority’s decision-making process in relation to the referral.
He resigned as the West Yorkshire chief in October, saying it was because the controversy had become a “distraction to policing in West Yorkshire”.
In a statement issued through the police authority at the time, Sir Norman said he had never blamed the fans for the tragedy.
And he dismissed a claim first highlighted by Merseyside MP Maria Eagle that he had once bragged to a fellow student in a pub about “concocting” the police version of events, describing the allegation as “both incredible and wrong”.
At the time of his resignation, Sir Norman said the police authority and some of the candidates in the forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner elections made it clear that they wanted him to go.