FORMER Merseyside chief constable Sir Norman Bettison has denied telling two men in separate pub conversations that he was part of a South Yorkshire Police internal team seeking to blame “drunken” Liverpool supporters for the Hillsborough tragedy.
He was said to have made the comments during bar-room chats in the weeks after the April 1989 disaster which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans.
“We are going to try to concoct a story that all of the Liverpool fans were drunk, and that we were afraid they were going to break down the gates so we decided to open them”Sir Norman Bettison
John Barry told the inquests into the deaths that Sir Norman told him: “I have been asked by my senior officers to pull together this South Yorkshire Police evidence for the [Taylor]inquiry and we are going to try to concoct a story that all of the Liverpool fans were drunk, and that we were afraid they were going to break down the gates so we decided to open them.”
A second witness, Mark Ellaby, said: “I remember Mr Bettison saying that he had just been seconded to an internal team in South Yorkshire Police who were tasked with making sure that South Yorkshire Police bore no blame for the Hillsborough disaster and it was all the fault of drunken Liverpool supporters.
“I don’t recall the exact words but I certainly recall those words were the close approximation of what he said. I remember him going to lengths to say that South Yorkshire Police held no sort of responsibility for what happened.”
Both conversations were said to have taken place in the Fleur de Lys pub in Sheffield, where the group of Master’s business students at Sheffield School of Business would go after their weekly Monday evening classes.
But Sir Norman told the jury that he did not attend the class from 24 April onwards until he returned to the part-time three-year course in July that year.
Civil servant Mr Barry claims his conversation with the then chief inspector of South Yorkshire Police took place in mid to late May.
Mr Ellaby recalled his alleged conversation took place “a couple of weeks” after the disaster.
The local government officer with Sheffield City Council recalled a chat in the bar.
He said: “I got the impression that he saw it as a positive career advancement. I talked to him around his role in South Yorkshire Police generally and it was clear he was being groomed for some sort of senior leadership.”
Paul Greaney QC, representing the Police Federation, put it to Mr Ellaby that Sir Norman accepted on 17 April 1989 that he “may have” mentioned at the class the suggestions of drunkenness, ticketlessness and late arrivals but “he is clear in his recollection that there was no suggestion by him or anyone that the fans were going to be blamed as part of a plan”.
Mr Ellaby replled: “That is not my recollection.”
The witness told the jury he came forward with his recollection in November 2012 after he felt “very angry” when he heard Sir Norman deny in a BBC Radio 4 interview that he had a similar conversation with Mr Barry.
Counsel for the inquest Jonathan Hough QC asked Sir Norman: “You have heard that Mr Barry has said now in court, and previously in public, that you told him that your work was to pull together evidence and concoct a story that Liverpool fans were drunk and said ‘We were afraid they were going to break down the gates so we decided to open them’. Did you say anything like that to Mr Barry or anyone else?”
Sir Norman said: “I did not.”