Hillsborough families call for review after case against former police chief dropped

Norman Bettison arrives at Preston Crown Court today. Picture: Peter Powell/PA Wire
Norman Bettison arrives at Preston Crown Court today. Picture: Peter Powell/PA Wire

Hillsborough families will call for a review of the decision not to prosecute former police chief Sir Norman Bettison, after the case against him was discontinued.

Sir Norman, 62, had been charged with four counts of misconduct in a public office, all relating to alleged lies he told following the disaster at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.

In 1989, 96 football fans were crushed to death at a game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough stadium. Picture: PA

In 1989, 96 football fans were crushed to death at a game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough stadium. Picture: PA

At a hearing before judge Sir Peter Openshaw at Preston Crown Court on Tuesday, Sarah Whitehouse QC, prosecuting, said the proceedings would be discontinued as there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.

She said that, under the victims’ right of review process, those with a “significant” interest in the case had three months to seek a review of the decision.

Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said: “”We have grave concerns about the handling of this case by the CPS and can confirm that we will be exercising our right to an independent review under the right to review scheme.

“It is our view that the wrong charge was brought in the first place and we will be using the review process to argue this point strongly.”

Speaking outside court, Lou Brookes, whose brother Andrew, 26, was one of the 96 victims of the tragedy, said: “I will certainly be pursuing my right to a review, a full and independent review, under the victims’ right to review scheme.”

Steve Kelly, the brother of victim Michael, 38, said: “I’m absolutely devastated. I feel as if I’ve been beaten up this morning.”

Sir Norman had been a chief inspector in South Yorkshire Police at the time of the disaster.

He was off duty on the day but in the aftermath of the tragedy was part of a team tasked with finding material for police lawyers to present to the public inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor.

He was charged with misconduct for allegedly telling lies about his role in the disaster in 1998, when he applied for the chief constable job at Merseyside Police, and in 2012, when the Hillsborough Independent Panel report was published.

Ms Whitehouse told the court that, since the defendant was charged, in June last year, the “state of the evidence has changed”.

The court heard that witness Mark Ellaby, who attended evening classes with Sir Norman in 1989, had died and “significant contradictions” had come to light in the accounts given by another witness, an 85-year-old woman referred to as Mrs J in court.

Paul Greaney QC, defending Sir Norman, said he was an “innocent man” and that there had been “naked political interference” in the case.

Read more: On this day: 96 football fans died at Hillsborough

He said a “false understanding” that Sir Norman was part of an alleged cover-up had been fostered by political figures including Maria Eagle, MP for Garston and Halewood, who said in Parliament that Sir Norman had tried to deflect blame for the disaster on to fans of Liverpool Football Club.

Speaking outside court, Sir Norman said the decision to discontinue the case “vindicated” his position.

He added: “Six years ago, I was driven from the job that had been my vocation for 40 years, and some commentators, who didn’t really know anything about me or the facts, rushed to judgement and predetermined my guilt.

“Something I learned, though, early in my police service, is that no injustice was ever satisfactorily resolved through being unjust.”

In a joint statement, Ms Eagle along with Merseyside metro mayor Steve Rotheram, Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham, Wirral South MP Alison McGovern and Halton MP Derek Twigg said: “We are disappointed to hear this news and we fully support the decision of the families to seek a review.

“As long-standing supporters of the campaign for justice, our thoughts today are with the bereaved families and survivors of the Hillsborough disaster, still re-living that day and its aftermath almost 30 years on. We will continue to support them in any way we can.”

Sir Norman was charged after the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) carried out the biggest criminal investigation into alleged police misconduct ever carried out in England and Wales.

Five other men, including Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield, are due to face trial for offences related to the disaster next year.

Ian Todd, deputy director general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, said: “We acknowledge the CPS decision to discontinue criminal proceedings against Norman Bettison.

“We know many people will be affected by today’s news, particularly the Hillsborough families.

“Our focus is to support the CPS with the forthcoming trials for the remaining defendants, and to complete our investigations into police conduct following the Hillsborough disaster.

“We ask that people avoid making any online comments that could prejudice those trials.”

Read more: Hillsborough match commander will face trial for manslaughter