Socialist Worker

Cops knew they had no grounds for ‘conspiracy theory’ that blamed Hillsborough fans

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2453

Police were guilty of a “serious failing” during the Hillsborough football stadium disaster, a former chief inspector has admitted.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died as a result of the 1989 disaster.

Former South Yorkshire Police (SYP) chief inspector Sir Norman Bettison finished giving evidence to fresh inquests into the deaths last week.

In 1989 Bettison set out a series of criticisms of police that were hard to counter. He told the court they “add up to a serious failing”. 

Bettison was part of the Wain team that prepared SYP’s proof of evidence to Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry into the disaster.

Bettison agreed that none of the criticisms were included in that proof of evidence. He added that he had nothing to do with the final submission.

He agreed that the section he wrote included evidence containing “disparaging comments about fans which are, to some extent, gratuitous and not necessary to a proper understanding of the event”.

SYP suggested to Taylor that ticketless fans “conspired to arrive late” and force police to admit them to the match by causing trouble.

Bettison said he told a Police Federation meeting there was no grounds for the theory. But he had suggested it could be referred to publicly to show police were “active”. 

Disaster 

Bettison wrote a note to SYP chief constable Peter Wright dated 7 July 1989 about an upcoming TV documentary. It said SYP could be presented as “a caring and professional organisation, doggedly pursuing the facts surrounding the disaster, eg, the conspiracy theory.”

Peter Wilcock QC asked about a meeting at SYP Police Federation headquarters on 3 October attended by Tory MP Michael Shersby. Wilcock said the minutes made clear that the Police Federation intended to plan a counter attack on Taylor’s findings with Shersby.

Bettison said, “I read that in the notes. To what extent back in 1989 I knew what it was referring to is another point entirely.”

Wilcock asked about Bettison’s appointment to chief constable of Merseyside Police. The court was shown minutes of an informal meeting with the police authority and Bettison in November 1998. 

The interview panel asked him about which incident he would most like to forget.

Wilcock asked why Bettison did not mention Hillsborough. Bettison said, “Nothing about Hillsborough embarrasses me”.

Bettison’s barrister and Police Federation representative Paul Greaney asked Bettison about his written account of the disaster. 

Bettison finished writing it after he was appointed to the Wain team. Greaney said, “If the aim of that team was to blame the fans, it might be thought that your statement would pursue that theme.”

Bettison’s statement said, “All the way along my journey I was continually asked for spare tickets and swaps by young male Liverpool supporters.”

It described groups of Liverpool supporters who seemed “very aggressive” on leaving the ground.

The inquests continue.


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