Yorkshire police chief was identified as key figure in operation by Hillsborough Independent Panel's report
Sir Norman Bettison is the first senior figure involved in the Hillsborough scandal to step down from his position following the exposure last month of what really happened in the disaster and its aftermath.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel's report, published on 12 September, identified Bettison as a key figure in a South Yorkshire police operation, mounted after the disaster, which attempted to swing MPs' and public opinion against the Liverpool supporters and absolve the police themselves of blame for the disaster. Since being named in parliament in 1998 by the Labour MP Maria Eagle as a member of a "black propaganda unit", Bettison has denied involvement in any such campaign.
The documents released to the panel by South Yorkshire police, as part of the Hillsborough disclosure process, showed Bettison was a member of the force's Hillsborough inquiry team, set up to help manage its response to the disaster.
After Lord Justice Taylor's report in August 1989 identified police failings as "the prime cause" of the disaster, South Yorkshire police mounted a campaign to contest it. Bettison produced a 31-minute video of events at Hillsborough, which he presented as part of that response. Michael Shersby, the Conservative MP who represented the Police Federation's interests, was told stories by police of fans being drunk and misbehaving – which the panel found baseless – and promised to represent in parliament the officers' strong resentment of the Taylor report.
Shersby invited Bettison to present his video to a meeting of MPs in parliament, which he did on 8 November 1989. Bettison reported to the then South Yorkshire chief constable, Peter Wright, that the meeting had split broadly on party lines, and "at least two Conservative MPs" had promised to attack the Taylor report.
On 13 September, the day after the Hillsborough Independent Panel identified Bettison's role, he issued a statement saying he had "read the 395-page report from cover to cover" and it would "stand the test of time and scrutiny".
Yet, in a detailed account of his involvement, he did not mention his role, described in the report, in presenting the video. Bettison claimed that after the disaster he "acknowledged and accepted the responsibility of the force", and: "Shortly after the conclusion of the Taylor inquiry, I was posted to other duties."
The families of the 96 Liverpool supporters who died were outraged in 1998 when Bettison was appointed chief constable of Merseyside after being named by Eagle. She based that on the fact that Bettison was copied in on statements by junior police officers, as they were amended, on the instruction of senior officers, to take out criticism of the police operation at Hillsborough. He then denied – as he still does – involvement in changing statements.
However, his true involvement in the South Yorkshire police response to Hillsborough was identified by the panel process. Now, three weeks on, Bettison has announced his retirement.