Skip to main content

Police chief resigns amid UK soccer stadium crush questions

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 8:38 PM EDT, Wed October 24, 2012
A supporter pays his respects outside Anfield on September 23 to those who died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
A supporter pays his respects outside Anfield on September 23 to those who died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Norman Bettison says he does not want to be a "distraction" to police work
  • Police officers are being investigated over the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster
  • Bettison denies blaming Liverpool fans for the tragedy
  • 96 people died and hundreds were injured in the crush at Hillsborough Stadium

(CNN) -- A top British police officer being investigated over a cover-up in connection with the death of 96 people in the Hillsborough stadium disaster in 1989 has resigned, his force said Wednesday.

Sir Norman Bettison was with South Yorkshire Police at the time of the crush at Sheffield's Hillsborough Stadium, and worked on an internal inquiry into what happened.

Bettison has been under growing pressure since an independent report published last month was heavily critical of the role played by the police and emergency services.

Read: English FA offer apology on Hillsborough

In response, Britain's police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, launched a criminal investigation into police misconduct -- saying the report "revealed extremely serious and troubling issues for the police."

Report: Police blamed for stadium tragedy
Hillsborough stadium tragedy explained

Bettison's resignation as Chief Constable of the West Yorkshire Police is effective immediately, the force said in a statement Wednesday. He had held the position since 2006.

Media attention and the investigation by the IPCC were "proving to be a huge distraction for the force," the West Yorkshire Police Authority said

Bettison said he had hoped to stay in his post to address the allegations against him, but was urged by the West Yorkshire Police Authority and others to stand down now.

"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," he said.

Bettison said he had "always felt the deepest compassion and sympathy for the families" of the Hillsborough victims and he shares their desire to know the truth about what happened. "I have never blamed the fans for causing the tragedy," he said.

Bettison said he would cooperate fully with the criminal and IPCC investigations into the police handling of the disaster.

Read: Police criticized over Hillsborough response

The crush at Sheffield's Hillsborough Stadium on April 15, 1989, has cast a lasting shadow over Liverpool and the surrounding Merseyside area.

The families of those killed and injured have battled for two decades to get to the truth about what happened on that awful day, with the report by the independent panel a key step along that road.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel found there had been "strenuous attempts" by police to deflect responsibility for the disaster to Liverpool fans by falsely claiming they were drunk and aggressive.

Its analysis also revealed that changes were made by South Yorkshire Police to police statements to remove and alter comments unfavorable to their organization.

As many as 41 of those crushed could have survived had the emergency services' response been better, the panel concluded -- something that the families of the victims had long suspected.

The tragedy occurred when thousands of fans were let through a gate into an already crowded standing area, leading many to be crushed against metal fences and concrete walls. Horrifying images from the scene showed panicked men, women and children pushed and trampled with nowhere to go as police lost control of the crowd.

The impact of English football's darkest day lives on in the tributes still paid by Liverpool to its lost sons and daughters, husbands and fathers.

But the tragedy also forced the sport to change on a national basis, and in a way still felt today, with stadiums modernized and made more family friendly, leading in turn to greater investment from sponsors and TV broadcasters.

CNN's Laura Perez Maestro contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:23 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
After 20 years, more than 300 goals and a host of major honors, Thierry Henry has called time on his glittering football career.
updated 5:14 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
They do things differently at Sociedad Deportiva Eibar, up in the mist-cloaked valleys of the Basque country. And it is working.
updated 8:53 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
He might be struggling to score goals for Liverpool, but Mario Balotelli's cheeky tweet about the British monarch hit the spot during the World Cup.
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
How Real Madrid's new stadium will look
They splash the cash on the world's best players, now Real Madrid are giving the Bernabeu the same treatment with a bling makeover.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Football world mourns South African captain Senzo Meyiwa who was shot and killed during a botched robbery in a township near Johannesburg.
updated 9:48 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
A man as a Roman centurion and who earn his living by posing with tourists gestures in front of the Colosseum during a protest where some of his colleagues climbed on the monument on April 12, 2012 in Rome. The costumed centurions are asking for the right to work there after they were banned following a decision by local authorities.
From the ancient ruins of Rome, a new empire rises. But the eyes of the city's newest gladiator light up at thoughts of the Colosseum.
updated 12:22 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Once part of Germany's largest Jewish sports club, now he's the first ISIS suspect to stand trial in a country left shocked by his alleged radicalization.
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
One goal in eight matches for new club Liverpool, and dumped by the Italian national team -- Mario Balotelli has yet to shine on his English return.
updated 2:19 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Ched Evans smiles during the Wales training session ahead of their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against England on March 25, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales.
Should a convicted rapist, who has served their time in prison, be allowed to resume their old job? What if that job was as a high-profile football player?
updated 8:47 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
After 10 years of golden glory, it's easy to see how Lionel Messi has taken his place among the football gods.
updated 6:34 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
A football fan wipes a tear after Inter Milan's Argentinian defender Javier Zanetti has greeted fans following the announcement of his retirement before the start of the Italian seria A football match Inter Milan vs Lazio, on May 10, 2014, in San Siro Stadium In Milan
When will the tears stop? A leading Italian football club is pursuing a new direction -- under the guidance of its new Indonesian owner.
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Norwegian 15-year-old Martin Odegaard is the youngest player ever to feature in a European Championships qualifying match.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Fri October 10, 2014
After revolutionizing cricket with its glitzy Twenty20 league, India has now thrown large sums of money at a new football venture.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Get ruthless. That is Rio Ferdinand's message to soccer's authorities in the fight to tackle the scourge of racism.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
A picture taken on May 16, 2014 shows 15-year-old Norwegian footballer Martin Oedegaard of club Stroemsgodset IF cheering during a match in Drammen, Norway. Oedegaard is set to become Norways youngest player ever in the national football team.
He's just 15 and the world is seemingly already at his feet. Norway's Martin Odegaard is being sought by Europe's top clubs.
ADVERTISEMENT