Bettison faces new Lawrence cover-up inquiry

Sir Norman Bettison, former chief constable of West Yorkshire Police
Sir Norman Bettison, former chief constable of West Yorkshire Police

Former West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettison faces a new investigation by the police watchdog over allegations he may have tried to influence the public inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

West Yorkshire Police have uncovered three documents which raise concerns that Sir Norman, then an assistant chief constable, commissioned a report on someone who was due to give evidence to the inquiry when it held a hearing in Bradford in 1998.

The police said there were questions over “the motivation for the report and therefore its appropriateness”.

The matter has now been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) which is already looking into Sir Norman’s actions following the Hillsborough disaster while serving with South Yorkshire Police earlier in his career.

The documents came to light after a former police officer claimed there was a concerted attempt to smear the Lawrence family in the years after Stephen’s murder and this operation was concealed from the public inquiry, headed by retired High Court judge Sir William Macpherson.

The Home Office ordered all police forces where the Inquiry held hearings to examine their files, leading to West Yorkshire’s discovery.

West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said: “These documents raise significant concerns over the role of Sir Norman Bettison at the time he was Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police in 1998 in commissioning a report to be prepared in the respect of a key witness appearing before the Macpherson Inquiry.

“This may suggest an attempt to intervene in the course of a public inquiry and influence the manner in which the testimony of a witness, who was due to present evidence before it, was received.

“This is a matter which needs to be thoroughly investigated, and if wrongdoing is demonstrated those responsible must face the consequences of their actions.”

Sir Norman stood down as chief constable last year following the publication of the report into the Hillsborough tragedy which exposed attempts by the police to discredit the victims. He has always denied any involvement in attempts to blame Liverpool supporters for what happened.

An IPCC report later said he had tried to “manipulate” the way complaints about his role in relation to Hillsborough were referred to the IPCC and would have faced allegations of “gross misconduct” if he had stayed in the job.

Derbyshire Police are also looking into allegations he was involved in the attempted sale of stolen platinum during his time as a South Yorkshire officer.

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry was set up in 1997, four years after the teenager’s murder, to examine the police investigation and its failure to secure convictions. Its damning report uncovered a string of failings and concluded that the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally racist”.

Hearings were held around the country including one in Bradford in October 1998 where it heard evidence from police and probation officers, race equality campaigners and councillors.

Leeds councillor Alex Sobel, at the time a student anti-racism campaigner, was one of the witnesses who gave evidence at the Bradford hearing.

He said: “As somebody who was a witness to the Macpherson Inquiry I would be keen to know if there was any intelligence gathering on witnesses and why.

“I welcome the referral to the IPCC by the police and crime commissioner.”

The Home Affairs Select Committee this week called for measures to prevent police officers using retirement to avoid gross misconduct charges.

Career dogged by controversy

• Sir Norman Bettison was a South Yorkshire Police chief inspector at the time of the Hillsborough disaster.

• In 1993 he became assistant chief constable at West Yorkshire Police.

• His appointment as Merseyside chief constable in 1998 was criticised by Hillsborough families.

• After a spell in retirement he became West Yorkshire chief constable in 2007.