Hillsborough disaster policeman referred to UK watchdog

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 19, 2012 12:57 PM
Hillsborough disaster policeman referred to UK watchdog

LONDON (Reuters) - A senior police officer accused of helping orchestrate a cover-up to place blame for Britain's worst soccer stadium disaster on drunken, rowdy fans could face an investigation leading to possible prosecution, officials said on Wednesday.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which investigates complaints against the police in England and Wales, said West Yorkshire police had referred Chief Constable Norman Bettison's case to it on Tuesday following complaints from members of the public.

Bettison worked on the flawed operation at the Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 when 96 soccer fans died in a crush.

He used to serve in the South Yorkshire police in northern England and is currently the most senior officer on the West Yorkshire force.

A report published last week by the Hillsborough Independent Panel produced evidence of a police cover-up after the crush caused by overcrowding at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

The report said more than 100 statements taken at the time had been doctored to remove evidence that painted the police in a negative light. The authorities sought to shift the blame to Liverpool fans, portrayed as drunk, aggressive and ticketless.

It also criticized the emergency services for their poor handling of the incident.

The first complaint alleges that Bettison "was involved in the production and supply of misleading information" relating to Hillsborough.

The second complaint concerned comments Bettison made about the incident on September 13 when he defended his force's role in a newspaper opinion piece.

"The IPCC is conducting a detailed assessment of the referral to determine how the allegations should be investigated," the watchdog said in a statement.

Bettison has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Prime Minister David Cameron apologized to victims' families after the report was published. Relatives said they wanted police involved in Hillsborough to be brought before the courts.

The IPCC said it would take weeks to analyze the new information set out in the Hillsborough report. The watchdog can refer cases to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether criminal charges should be brought.

(Reporting by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Angus MacSwan)