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Monday, November 16, 1998 Published at 00:24 GMT


UK

Police chief rejects Hillsborough claims

Liverpool fans try to save those trapped in the crush

The new Chief Constable of Merseyside has denied claims that he was involved in a "black propaganda campaign" after the Hillsborough tragedy.

Norman Bettison, who starts work on Monday, has been dogged since his appointment by allegations that he was involved in a secret operation to shift blame for the football stadium disaster away from the police and onto fans.

Three members of the police authority that appointed him have resigned over the issue.

Ninety-six people - mostly Liverpool fans - were crushed to death at the Sheffield Wednesday stadium in 1989 after too many fans were allowed into the stadium during an FA Cup tie.


[ image: New Merseyside Chief Constable Norman Bettison]
New Merseyside Chief Constable Norman Bettison
But Mr Bettison dismissed the allegations, which centre around his time with the South Yorkshire force, as "simply not true" and invited people opposed to his appointment to address their grievances to him face-to-face.

He said: "Meet me. Ask me anything that you want to ask me.

"I'm not sure if I can shed light on their doubts and concerns, but I'm prepared to give it a damn good try."

Speaking from his new office overlooking Liverpool's Albert Dock, Mr Bettison sought to shift attention away from the controversy and back to his role as chief constable.

"People have only been exposed in the past five weeks to rumour and speculation about that part of my past...I want to put the rumour and speculation to bed," he said.

"The passionate view that I have is that I can make a difference to policing Merseyside.

"I can go some way to helping people feel safe in their homes and their streets and that is what I want to be remembered for."


[ image: Protesters call for Mr Bettison's resignation]
Protesters call for Mr Bettison's resignation
Mr Bettison agreed that the police were to blame for the tragedy, because they failed to adequately control the crowd of 55,000 fans, and said he understood that people still felt strongly about it.

He defined his role in the subsequent Hillsborough investigation as running a "mail room" for West Midlands police who were conducting an independent investigation.

Part of that role was to remove "hearsay" and "emotional baggage" from evidence and to keep senior officers informed of progress so that safety procedures at matches could be improved.

'Danger of myths'

"I never took a statement, certainly never amended a statement and certainly never asked for any statement to be amended," he said.

"What it wasn't was a black propaganda unit and a unit involved in historical revisionism."

The "black propaganda" allegations first surfaced in a speech to Parliament by Liverpool Garston MP Maria Eagle.

Mr Bettison said he had held "positive" talks with Ms Eagle about the allegations.

"Around anything as emotionally and politically-charged as Hillsborough, there is a danger of myths starting to be created," he said.

"It is important for me, because I am going to be on Merseyside for a number of years, that it does not go down in mythology that Maria Eagle has consistently said that I was involved in black propaganda and historical revisionism."

On Monday 2 November, relatives of Hillsborough victims handed in a petition signed by 15,000 people calling for the chief constable's removal.



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06 Nov 98 | UK
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