Friday, October 12, 2012

jettison bettison

Sir Norman Bettison is Chief Constable of West Yorkshire police, but not for much longer. Despite having a £225k paypacket and a contract due to run until 2015, he's stepping down next March.

This is because in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster he was one of the senior South Yorkshire officers who ran the horrific dirty tricks campaign against the Liverpool fans. They were accused of robbing the dead and dying and attacking brave police trying to save victims (much the same way as G20 protesters were supposedly pelting police who were trying to save the heart-attack victim Ian Tomlinson).

As the recent Hillsborough Independent Panel proved beyond any doubt, it was a cold calculated lie designed to deflect blame from an institution who knew itself to be primarily responsible for the deaths.

In the days after the report was published and the release of thousands of official documents supporting it, Bettison carefully said he never personally altered any officers' statements nor asked for them to be altered. He was silent on the fact that he was part of team that dealt with the doctoring. 

Despite the Panel's definitive findings that completely exonerate Liverpool fans, Bettison issued an apology but in it he tried to clear himself saying that the Liverpool fans had obstructed police efforts. This was disproven at the Taylor Inquiry in 1989, let alone by the Panel. Within hours Bettison was forced into the bizarre position of issuing an apology for his apology.

His credibility dissolved, with protests outside Leeds' main police station calling for him to resign, his position looked tenuous. But this isn't the reason he's resigned. With the Independent Police Complaints Commission now looking into whether disciplinary charges should be brought against officers, possibly even criminal charges, Bettison's resignation is a pragmatic move to avoid accountability.

By retiring you scupper any pending disciplinary charges, so avoid any sanction, and keep your full pension. The tactic is so common in the police that I'm willing to bet they have a name for it.

It is what the officers primarily responsible for the Hillsborough disaster did. Like Bettison today, in 1991 the man most responsible for the Hillsborough disater, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, had disciplinary charges pending against him. So he too simply retired and the charges had to be dropped leaving this retired man - still in his 40s - with his full pension. He has still suffered no penalty of any kind for what he did.

As the response to Hillsborough so starkly illustrates, the police will do anything to avoid accountability. Four days after the disaster Deputy Chief Constable Peter Hayes was discussing with insurers how to avoid blame. Identifying the senior officers who'd ordered the gate open, Duckenfield and his deputy Bernard Murray, as 'in an exposed position,' Hayes suggested coming up with a junior officer who could be said to have panicked and opened the gate on their own initiative. He said this knowing that he'd have to produce such a scapegoated officer to sacrifice.

South Yorkshire officers still want to silence criticism. Last Saturday Hull City played against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. Hull fans chanted 'justice for the 96' and 'murderers' at South Yorkshire officers who responded by baton charging them.

It is not just about Hillsborough. The officers responsible for the death of Christopher Alder - standing round the unconscious black man laughing and making monkey noises while he slowly choked to death on his own blood and vomit on a police station floor - took early retirement to avoid charges too, even though some were only in their 30s.

Bettison - still only 56 today - retired in 2005, leaving his position as Chief Constable of Merseyside to work in the private sector for two years. So technically the current West Yorkshire job is a post-retirement position. That being so, his pension will be paid by the Council Tax from the area he first retired from - Merseyside.

The Hillsborough victims' friends and families in Liverpool will be contributing to the £88k pension of the man who was at the heart of the cruel, vicious plot to deny them justice, what Michael Mansfield QC has called 'the biggest cover-up in British history'.

The Hillsborough families are livid, calling for him to be sacked before he resigns, calling for the IPCC to report before his resignation date of next March so disciplinary charges may be brought against him, and for him to be stripped of his knighthood.

Were he to end up being convicted of any criminal offence there is a power to strip him of up to two thirds of his pension, leaving him with a mere £30k a year. But it's notoriously hard to get convictions of police officers. 

Ian Tomlinson's inquest jury found he had been unlawfully killed by PC Simon Harwood's baton strike. Yet Harwood's trial jury found his baton strike had not significantly contributed to Tomlinson's death. Both worked to the same standard of proof - beyond a reasonable doubt - so one of them is simply wrong.

Like Duckenfield and Murray after their private prosecution by Hillsborough families, like the officers who let Christopher Alder die and so many more, Harwood simply walked free from court, pension intact.

Many more officers never see the dock. West Midlands Police's Serious Crime Squad was riddled with corruption, it falsified evidence, tortured suspects, and was disbanded. Dozens of convictions have been overturned. Not one officer has been charged.

West Midlands, incidentally, were the force who looked into whether there should be any criminal prosecutions over Hillsborough in 1990. With their expertise in falsifying statements, it's not surprising that found nothing wrong in South Yorkshire altering hundreds of witness statements to remove anything that blamed the police for the disaster. 

Once they had told various people to change their evidence to be more generous to the police, West Midlands submitted a report that led to the Crown Prosecution Service deciding not to bring any charges against South Yorkshire police or anybody else. The Hillsborough football ground did not have a valid safety certificate, yet West Midlands decided this didn't amount to negligence by either the club or the body reponsible for issuing them, Sheffield City Council. Total fucking whitewash.

It is clear that we cannot depend on the legal system that has so monstrously failed the Hillsborrugh families to deliver justice in this case. As has been proven with over two decades of fruitless judge-led inquiries and rigged inquests, one arm of state power does not readily hold another to account. It only happens on the rare occasions when the clamour for justice is so persistent that the truth is less of an irritant than the continuing campaign.

On the assumption Norman Bettison's retirement goes ahead as planned, the campaign should not stop. Council Tax bills give the payer a breakdown of their charge. Liverpool families with a thirst for justice should withold the proportion for policing for as long as it contributes to the enrichment of their vilifier and tormentor. 


UPDATE: There is a government epetition to postpone Bettison's retirement. Most petitions are a waste of time but these ones, especially on this issue, are different.Once these petitions get over 100,000 signatures they have to be considered for parliamentary debate. Two Hillsborough ones have done it and, thanks to long-term campaigning MPs such as Maria Eagle and Andy Burnham, the debates yielded real results such as the government agreeing to give full unredacted copies of the relevant Cabinet minutes. We've already got further down the road to accountability and justice than most of us dreamed was possible. Let's keep going.  

So please, if you're a British resident, take a minute to add your name and pass it on to your friends. It's here.

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