One of the country's most senior police officers is to retire following controversy over his role in the Hillsborough tragedy, it was announced on Thursday.

Sir Norman Bettison, chief constable of West Yorkshire police, has decided to step down while an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) inquiry is ongoing into his role after the1989 disaster at the Sheffield football ground when 96 people were killed.

Bettison's decision to retire is understood to have caused dismay among some senior officers, who feel political support was withdrawn from him, forcing him to go.

Bettison, the most senior serving officer who was involved in the tragedy, said: "Recent weeks have caused me to reflect on what is best for the future of policing in West Yorkshire and I have decided to set a firm date for my retirement of 31 March 2013."

Bettison was under pressure to resign after publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report last month. The report contained more details about his role in the campaign by the police to present their best case in the aftermath of the disaster. It was an operation that has been labelled a "black propaganda" campaign by the Labour MP Maria Eagle and by families of the Hillsborough victims.

He refused to go, but an IPCC investigation began after the watchdog received a complaint that he had supplied misleading information after the disaster.

It has emerged that a further complaint was made to the IPCC about a statement that Bettison issued last month following the report in which he said Liverpool fans' behaviour made policing the tragedy "harder than it needed to be".

These comments sparked further anger and intensified calls for his resignation, leading Bettison to issue an apology. He said he never intended to "besmirch" the fans and that Liverpool supporters were in no way to blame for the disaster.

Bettison was a chief inspector with South Yorkshire police in 1989 but was off duty on 15 April and went to the fateful match as a spectator. Later, he was one of five officers involved in a review group within the force that was accused of playing a key role in presenting propaganda to shift the blame from the police to the fans. He has denied any wrongdoing in relation to the disaster.

Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, said: "Obviously I'm very, very pleased. I'm absolutely delighted that he's going. But then he'll be going on his full pension, and I'd like to know the full reasons why he's choosing to retire as soon as this." Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the tragedy, said: "Why didn't he stay until the IPCC came out with their investigation?"

Questions about Bettison's role in the investigation have followed him as he has been promoted through the ranks to become one of the country's most senior officers. When he was appointed as chief constable of Merseyside in 1998, there were furious protests from the families of those who died at Hillsborough.

In a message on the West Yorkshire police website, Bettison said of his departure: "I hope it will enable the Independent Police Complaints Commission to fully investigate allegations that have been raised about my integrity. They need to be fairly and fully investigated and I welcome this independent and formal scrutiny."

The Hillsborough Independent Panel laid open in full for the first time the extent of the coverup mounted by South Yorkshire police in the aftermath of the disaster. The inquiry found that 164 police statements were altered, 116 of them to remove or alter "unfavourable" comments about the policing of the match and the unfolding disaster.

Bettison has previously defended his role in the aftermath of 15 April 1989, saying: "I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered."

He also said: "I really welcome the disclosure of all the facts that can be known about the Hillsborough tragedy because I have absolutely nothing to hide."

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said Bettison would be a great loss to policing.

He said: "Sir Norman Bettison has served the public for nearly 40 years and at the rank of chief constable since 1998. At the national level, he has made an outstanding contribution to the work of the police service … in cutting crime and keeping the public safe. His depth of knowledge and experience is highly regarded within the service."

Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son Kevin died on the Leppings Lane terrace, said the findings of the recent report left Bettison with no choice but to retire.

She said: "I think the whole lot of them who have been involved for these 23 years should all go for the hurt that they have caused. I don't think he would have retired if it wasn't for the Hillsborough report."