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Hillsborough Police Chief: ‘boasted about smearing fans’, Parliament told

 Telegraph reporters

West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison “boasted” about smearing Liverpool fans in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, a senior Labour MP has claimed.

Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle claimed Sir Norman, who was a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the time of the 1989 tragedy, revealed he had been asked to help “concoct” the force’s version of events.

She used parliamentary privilege to make the allegations which were based on new evidence from a witness who discussed the disaster with Sir Norman.

Ms Eagle, a Merseyside MP, said Sir Norman had “always denied any involvement in the dirty tricks campaign”.

But she alleged he was behind the “black propaganda” campaign.

She quoted from a letter from John Barry, who was at Hillsborough for the FA Cup semi-final tie that led to the death of 96 Liverpool fans.

The letter, written in 1998 to a solicitor for the Hillsborough Family Support Group, was copied to Ms Eagle in 2009 and she has been given permission to make it public.

Ms Eagle said Mr Barry was studying part-time at Sheffield Business School where one of his fellow students was a “middle-ranking police officer”.

Mr Barry wrote: “Some weeks after the game, and after I had been interviewed by West Midlands Police, we were in a pub after our weekly evening class.

“He told me that he had been asked by his senior officers to put together the South Yorkshire Police evidence for the forthcoming inquiry.

“He said that ‘we are trying to concoct a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk and we were afraid that they were going to break down the gates so we decided to open them’.”

Ms Eagle said: “Mr Barry confirmed to me in the covering letter in 2009 that the middle-ranking police officer to whom he referred is Norman Bettison.

“He has agreed to swear a statement to that effect and I have put him in touch with the families’ solicitors.

“Here we have an account of a contemporaneous conversation in which Norman Bettison boasted he is engaged in a South Yorkshire Police plot to fit up the Liverpool fans and deflect blame from the force.

“That is indeed what happened subsequently, so what Sir Norman denies in public he boasts about in private conversations.”

Sir Norman, who has announced he will retire in March, faces two investigations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

The senior officer was referred to the IPCC over claims that he gave misleading information in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster and that he tried to influence West Yorkshire Police Authority’s decision-making process in relation to the referral.

There were calls in the Commons for former Tory MP Sir Irvine Patnick to be stripped of his knighthood over his part in the smearing of Liverpool fans in the wake of the tragedy.

Former lord mayor of Liverpool Steve Rotheram, now a Labour MP, said the forfeiture committee should examine the honour.

Sir Irvine, who was revealed as one of the sources behind The Sun’s controversial coverage of the tragedy, has said he was “deeply and sincerely sorry”.

He insisted he had been given “wholly inaccurate” information by police officers.

Mr Rotheram said Sir Irvine had first questioned the behaviour of Liverpool fans in the Commons just two days after the tragedy, which cost 96 lives.

Mr Rotheram (Liverpool Walton) said: “The April 17 1989 Hansard makes for particularly interesting reading.

“It was clear even then that there were those in this place seeking to shift the blame onto the fans for the disaster.

“No one more ignorant to the facts than Irvine Patnick, the then Tory MP for Sheffield Hallam, who asked the home secretary to ‘examine the part that alcohol played in the disaster’.

“Why, on what basis, did he ask that question?”

Labour’s George Howarth (Knowsley) asked: “In view of the recent revelation about Irvine Patnick, do you agree that it does call into question any honours that were bestowed upon him?”

Mr Rotheram said: “I think if there was ever a job for the forfeiture committee, surely the scrapping of Patnick’s knighthood would be it.”

MPs said they were concerned the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) did not have the resources or manpower to handle the investigation on its own as it emerged it had been given the names of 1,444 officers, including the identities of 304 who are still serving.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the investigation could not be run just by the watchdog, while Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said there was a “problem in respect of resources”.

Speaking during a debate in the Commons, Ms Cooper said: “It is clear this investigation cannot be done solely by the IPCC, they have neither the powers nor the resources to do so … these investigations are beyond the scale of anything the IPCC have done before and it will also require powers that the IPCC simply doesn’t have.”



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