Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Hillsborough: What is the truth? - Norman Bettison resignation statement in full

The Telegraph wesite has published the full text of Norman Bettison's resignation statement: Sir Norman Bettison: resignation statement in full .

For convenience I quote here the full text of Bettison's statement:

First, and foremost, the Hillsborough tragedy, 23 years ago, left 96 families bereaved and countless others injured and affected by it.
I have always felt the deepest compassion and sympathy for the families, and I recognise their longing to understand exactly what happened on that April afternoon.
I have never blamed the fans for causing the tragedy.
Secondly, I refute the report of a conversation 23 years ago. The suggestion that I would say to a passing acquaintance that I was deployed as part of a team tasked to 'concoct a false story of what happened', is both incredible and wrong.
That isn't what I was tasked to do, and I did not say that.
Thirdly, there is a due process to deal with any allegation through the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) and the criminal law.
I remain consistent in my desire to assist those enquiries to the full, both now and in the future. These processes should help to separate facts from speculation.
Fourthly, I sought to remain in post to address those allegations. It now appears that that will take some time.
The Police Authority, and some of the candidates in the forthcoming PCC elections, have made it clear that they wish me to go sooner.
I do so, not because of any allegations about the past, but because I share the view that this has become a distraction to policing in West Yorkshire now and in the future.
I have therefore agreed to retire within the statutory notice period. It has been a privilege to serve the public as a Police Officer for more than 40 years and I wish the Force and the Police Service every success for the future.

There you have it. If you believe Norman Bettison, he is totally innocent.

I suspect that I'm not alone in not believing him.

Hillsborough: What is the truth? - Unprecedented new inquests in prospect

The Home Secretary's statement to the House of Commons on 22nd October, House of Commons Hansard for 22 October 2012 (pt 0002), includes the following comments about the possibility of the Dr. Popper inquests being quashed and the nature of the potential new inquests on those who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster:

The bereaved families have long considered the original inquest to have been inadequate, and the Hillsborough independent panel has pointed to significant flaws. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has studied the panel’s report in detail and looked at the disclosed material and the previous requests for new inquests that were declined by his predecessors. He has confirmed that he will apply to the High Court for the original inquest to be quashed and a new one ordered.

Right hon. and hon. Members will know that it is for the High Court and not for Government to make the final decision, and that we must be careful not to pre-judge the Court’s consideration. Should the Court agree a new inquest, I have asked the chairman of the Hillsborough independent panel, the Bishop of Liverpool, to work with the new chief coroner to ensure that arrangements are put in place in which the families are central, and to ensure that the new inquest is run in a way that reflects the dignity and respect that the families have themselves so consistently demonstrated. I have also asked the Bishop of Liverpool to act as my adviser more generally on Hillsborough-related matters, and he has agreed to do so.
The second quoted paragraph indicates that the process of agreeing what nature a prospective new inquest (more precisely multiple inquests) may have is likely to be unprecedented.

Having a person who is not an "interested person" have a role in the parameters of an inquest is, so far as I'm aware, unprecedented.

The proposed arrangment seems broadly sensible but what is its basis in Law?

It may, also, be the first time that the recently appointed Chief Coroner, Judge Peter Thornton, has taken an active role in defining the parameters of an inquest.

Given that the office of Chief Coroner has been somewhat emasculated I'm not entirely clear on the basis in Law of the role proposed by the Home Secretary.

Further, the question of whether the Home Secretary has powers to "ensure" that an inquest is conducted in any particular way is a moot point, I think.

The wider question of how any such precedents may apply to other inquests also needs to be considered.

If the Hillsborough families are, hypothetically, to have their expenses paid why should that not also apply to other families in respect of the death of their loved one?

Hillsborough: What is the truth? - Sir Norman Bettison resigns

According to Sky News, Hillsborough Police Chief Bettison Quits, Sir Norman Bettison has resigned as Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police with immediate effect.

Councillor Les Carter, vice-chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Authority is quoted as saying:

I can confirm that the Police Authority has accepted Sir Norman’s resignation with immediate effect. The media attention and Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation is proving to be a huge distraction for the force, at a time when it is trying to maintain performance and make savings of £100m. We therefore believe that his decision is in the best interest of the communities of West Yorkshire

I had been planning to write to West Yorkshire Police Authority with evidence indicating that Bettison had lied to the Merseyside Police Authority when he was Chief Constable designate of Merseyside Police.

Bettison continues to deny any wrongdoing:

I have never blamed the fans for causing the tragedy

Sky News also indicates that Bettison refuted reports of a conversation it was claimed he had in the months after the tragedy.

The suggestion that I would say to a passing acquaintance that I was deployed as part of a team tasked to ‘concoct a false story of what happened’, is both incredible and wrong. That isn’t what I was tasked to do, and I did not say that.

The BBC website is also carrying the story about Bettison's resignation: Sir Norman Bettison resigns from West Yorkshire Police.

I believe that Mr. Bettison's resignation has the effect, given that he resigns with immediate effect, of nullifying any Police disciplinary action against him.

He is, as I understand it, only subject to any criminal charges that might be made against him in due course.

The tactical advantages to Mr. Bettison of an immediate resignation are clear.

Hillsborough: The potential role of the National Crime Agency

On 22nd October 2012, in her statement to the House of Commons, the Home Secretary Teresa May set out the potential role of the National Crime Agency in relation to investigating the Hillsborough cover-up in these words:

Moving on to deal with further investigations, the Director of Public Prosecutions has initiated a review of the panel’s findings. His review will inform a decision as to whether there are grounds to pursue prosecution of any of the parties identified in the report. If the DPP decides that further investigation is necessary, I will ensure that this can be carried out swiftly and thoroughly. In the case of police officers, it is likely that the IPCC will pick up the investigative role. If the DPP finds that a broader investigation is necessary, we will appoint a senior experienced investigator—entirely independent and unconnected to these events—to operate an investigation team within the new National Crime Agency.

See House of Commons Hansard Debates for 22 October 2012 (pt 0002).

The Home Secretary did not make it clear that the existence of the National Crime Agency is subject to Parliamentary process. In other words, the National Crime Agency does not currently exist.

The Crime and Courts Bill which establishes the National Crime Agency is not likely to become Law until Spring 2013. And, it is hoped, the National Crime Agency will be operational by Autumn 2013.

Investigation of individuals and agencies other than the Police looks likely to be a disappointingly distant prospect, even if one assumes that the Director of Prosecutions is competent and diligent in identifying those who may have committed criminal offences.

Given the failures of the Crown Prosecution Service in earlier phases of the Hillsborough cover-up I have serious doubts about how close to the truth the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service will seek to come.

The purpose of the Hillsborough: What is the Truth? blog

I've spent many hours over the last few weeks looking at the Hillsborough Independent Panel report and some of the very many documents which were made public at the same time.

I am struck by the parallels with, for example, the cover-up of the suspicious death of David Kelly.

Among the parallels are the following:

  1. Persistent seeming dishonesty within the relevant Police forces - South Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police in the case of Hillsborough, Thames Valley Police in the case of the death of David Kelly
  2. Questionable actions or inaction by the Coroner - Dr. Stefan Popper in the case of Hillsborough, Mr. Nicholas Gardiner and Mr. Darren Salter in the case of David Kelly
  3. A naive reliance on questionable and/or dishonest evidence of pathologists - nine pathologists in the case of Hillsborough, Dr. Nicholas Hunt and Dr. Richard Shepherd in the case of David Kelly
  4. A naive reliance on the imagined integrity and ability to find the truth of the judiciary - Lord Justice Taylor, Lord Justice McCowan, Mr. Justice Hooper and Lord Justice Stuart-Smith in the case of Hillsborough and Lord Hutton in the case of David Kelly
  5. A naive reliance on the imagined integrity and/or competence of the Crown Prosecution Service.
  6. A naive reliance on the imagined integrity and competence of the Attorney General and his office - Dominic Grieve in the case of David Kelly

There is no doubt in my mind that in both the cases of Hillsborough and David Kelly that there has been a sustained, premeditated conspiracy on the part of many Police officers.

But, it seems to me, the criminal conspiracy must go wider.

Which of the players were active conspirators?

Which were culpable by their silence?

Which were innocent or semi-innocent bystanders?

In this blog I hope to have time to explore some of those important questions.

If time and energy allow I hope to write a book provisionally entitled "Hillsborough: What is the truth?".

I believe that the Hillsborough Independent Panel has revealed some of the truth relating to the Hillsborough disaster but not all. More, anon, of the specific issues where I believe that the Hillsborough Independent Panel report may have missed substantive and more minor aspects of the truth.