Former police chief Sir Norman Bettison will not be prosecuted over allegations that he lied following the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster after the charges against him were dropped.
The former Merseyside and West Yorkshire chief constable had been facing four charges of misconduct in public office, all relating to claims he lied about his role in the aftermath of the 1989 tragedy, in which 96 Liverpool supporters died.
Today the Crown Prosecution Service announced that the proceedings would be discontinued following “significant developments” relating to the available evidence. Families of the victims received the decision with anger and immediately called for a review.
Sir Norman, 62, was a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the time of the tragedy at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989. He had been due to face trial next year. Explaining the CPS decision to drop proceedings against him, Sue Hemming, the director of legal services, said: “These include changes in the evidence of two witnesses and the death of a third witness.”
Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group who lost her 18-year-old son James in the disaster, said they would challenge the decision. “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,” she said.
Sir Norman was present at Preston Crown Court this morning when the decision was announced. He remained seated after the charges were discontinued as relatives of the victims filed out of court, some loudly directing comments at him.
Prosecutor Sarah Whitehouse, QC, told the court there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.
She said one of the two witnesses the Crown relied on for three of the charges had died and “significant contradictions” had come to light in the accounts given by the other witness. These charges related to statements Sir Norman allegedly made blaming Liverpool fans for the disaster.
Ms Whitehouse said the remaining charge related to Sir Norman’s alleged use of the word “peripheral” when describing his role in the South Yorkshire Police response in a job application for chief constable of Merseyside Police in 1998. The claim had now been “partly retracted” by one witness, she said. The prosecutor added that all four of the charges were part of a “narrative” of a “pattern of behaviour”, but because the other three counts had been dropped the “thread has been lost”.
Ms Hemming said in a statement: “Our latest review of the evidence has concluded ... there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction. I appreciate this news will be disappointing for the families and the CPS will meet with them in person to explain.”
Outside court, Steve Kelly, whose brother Michael died in the disaster at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, said: “I’m absolutely devastated. I feel as if I’ve been beaten up this morning. I feel as though we are treading water a little bit. We have tread water before and we will push on.”
Sir Norman, of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was charged after the Independent Police Complaints Commission 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.