The British police are the best in the world…

Norman Bettison resigned yesterday and Mervyn Barrett withdrew from campaigning to be Police Commissioner of Lincolnshire.

Norman Bettison received the Queen’s Police Medal in the Birthday Honours 2000: he was knighted in 2006. He was appointed Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police in 1993, he became Chief Constable of Merseyside Police in 1998, he retired from the police in January 2005 to become the CEO of Centrex, which was

“responsible for overseeing the design and delivery of probationer training, investigators training and other key areas. Centrex was also responsible for evaluating police training to see if it actually works. Centrex also set the national police promotion exams, probationer development tests and advised on the assessment of recruits.” (Wikipedia)

Norman Bettison moved on from Centrex in January 2007 to become what he was until yesterday: Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police. He resigned, saying an inquiry into his actions after the Hillsborough disaster was “a distraction” to the force. I’m sure that hoping to save his pension was in no way concerned.

In 1989, Bettison was a South Yorkshire chief inspector, part of the internal review team. The Hillsborough Independent Panel Report

highlights Bettison’s role in the internal review in presenting an edited video of the disaster to the police federation and later to MPs. The video – 29 minutes of footage compiled by Bettison from 65 hours of film – included a commentary by him. The report states: “The minutes of the meeting record what presumably was CI Bettison’s commentary: ‘Perimeter fences were the result of hooliganism – walls demolished, missile attacks on police officers, supporters climbing perimeter fences, pitch invasion’. The last was ‘thought to be the case at Hillsborough’.”

Norman Bettison says he never said that. He says:

First, and foremost, the Hillsborough tragedy, 23 years ago, left 96 families bereaved and countless others injured and affected by it.

I have always felt the deepest compassion and sympathy for the families, and I recognise their longing to understand exactly what happened on that April afternoon.

I have never blamed the fans for causing the tragedy.

Note that if true, this would make Sir Norman Bettison a startling holdout among senior Yorkshire police and a man who’d resisted the message of “togetherness” that is noted in the Hillsborough Report and against the general feeling in the police force . The Taylor Inquiry found that it was

‘a matter of regret that at the hearing, and in their submissions, the South Yorkshire Police were not prepared to concede they were in any respect at fault in what had occurred’. While C/Supt Duckenfield had apologised for ‘blaming the Liverpool fans for causing the deaths’, the SYP ‘case was to blame the fans for being late and drunk, and to blame the Club for failing to monitor the pens’.

The Police Federation journal Police editorialised in 1989:

Within days of Hillsborough the hooligan was being rehabilitated faster than the oxyacetylene torches were toppling fences. It is as though all the years of mayhem, all the fighting, kicking, destruction, stabbings and deaths linked to soccer violence have been expunged from people’s consciousness by one mind numbing tragedy.

Yet Norman Bettison says that he had no part in any of that. According to this resignation statement, he was a lone voice in the South Yorkshire Police speaking for the 96 dead. Of course he did say last month

“Fans’ behaviour, to the extent that it was relevant at all, made the job of the police, in the crush outside Leppings Lane turnstiles, harder than it needed to be.”

Maria Eagle told the House of Commons of a letter written by John Barry, who studied with Bettison on a part-time course at Sheffield Business School:

“We were in a pub after our weekly evening class. [Bettison] 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’.”

Norman Bettison’s reply to that is:

Secondly, I refute the report of a conversation 23 years ago.

The suggestion that I would say to a passing acquaintance that I was deployed as part of a team tasked to “concoct a false story of what happened”, is both incredible and wrong.

That isn’t what I was tasked to do, and I did not say that.

According to the Hillsborough report:

tatements made by South Yorkshire Police (SYP) officers in the form of handwritten recollections of their experiences on the day of the disaster underwent an unprecedented process of review and alteration before their submission to the official inquiry.

This was done on the authority of the Chief Constable,

conducted by a small team of officers managed by Chief Superintendent Donald Denton in consultation with Peter Metcalf, a senior partner in the SYP solicitors, Hammond Suddards. Although widely known to those directly involved in the inquiries and investigations, the process only became public knowledge following submissions to the Stuart-Smith Scrutiny and their subsequent analysis.

Norman Bettison is reported to have been part of that team, and is under investigation by the IPCC. The investigation will continue despite his resignation.

Another story from yesterday: Mervyn Barrett, who was standing for election as a police commissioner in Lincolnshire, has withdrawn from the election on discovering that his principal adviser and campaign manager was a fraudster.

Matthew de Unger Brown purported to be an experienced campaigner and, for several months, I trusted him to arrange the administration, fundraising and publicity for my campaign.

Yesterday I finally realised that the whole thing had been a sham. Although I have been actively campaigning on the streets of Lincolnshire, with a website and promotional video in place, many other aspects of the plan that Matthew claimed to have delivered – such as tracking polls and leaflets for a door-to-door delivery – now appear to have been purely figments of his imagination.

While Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph attempts to take credit for this, the real expose came from a legal blogger, PME2013, who had encountered Matthew Brown previously under several of his previous identities – both in real life and online. The entire blogpost is a must-read, a classic Agatha Christie detective story of fraud.

From the evidence gathered by Peter (PME2013) it does strongly appear that Mervyn Barrett was genuinely a victim of an experienced and effective confidence-trickster and sympathy is due him as the victim of a crime – but it would have been much worse had Barrett been successfully elected and Matthew Brown had continued as his trusted aide.

The advantage of an elected commissioner should have been external supervision of what Hillsborough and the general actions of the Metropolitan Police have shown us can be a locked-in, police-first attitude. But getting elected costs money – a lot of money – and if you don’t have a party behind you, how rich – or how dishonest – do you have to be, to get elected to this kind of position?

Looking at the strange career of Matthew de Unger Brown, it appears you can get quite far on sheer, brazen, unapologetic dishonesty…

The British Police are the best in the world
I don’t believe one of these stories I’ve heard
‘Bout them raiding our pubs for no reason at all
Lining the customers up by the wall
Picking out people and knocking them down
Resisting arrest as they’re kicked on the ground
Searching their houses and calling them queer
I don’t believe that sort of thing happens here – Tom Robinson, Glad to be Gay, 1976

Update: Excellent overview from HalfABear of the issues raised with elected Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales.

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