by Martin Odoni

I am not keen on people making judgements of works they have not read, so this essay may seem somewhat hypocritical. But I am confident that a book I have not read will not be worth the bother of reading.

This week sees the publication of a book written by the controversial retired police officer, Sir Norman Bettison. If you are unaware of who Bettison is, you can read a couple of articles about him, here and here. His putative involvement in the legal cover-up of the causes of the Hillsborough Disaster have long established his name as one of the ‘Great Unmentionables’ on Merseyside, even though he has always denied playing any knowing role in it.

I have not yet decided whether I will read Hillsborough Untold: Aftermath Of A Disaster myself, but I am already fairly sure that I will be wasting time if I do. (Neil Wilby has written a very comprehensive analysis if you wish to have a fully-informed view of the book. I am not yet in a position to express agreement or otherwise with the analysis, but I can say that Mr Wilby sounds highly skeptical.) Mainly, my trouble is that Bettison’s discussions of the book so far have been on the maintained basis that he knew nothing about the cover-up, and that the book outlines what he was doing instead of co-operating with police malpractice. He has gone on record more than once as saying that he

never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered.

As that is the angle from which the book appears to have been written, it establishes in itself that Hillsborough Untold is unlikely to be overburdened by factual accuracy. There has been strong evidence circulating among Hillsborough campaigners for several years that Bettison must not only have known that alteration-of-statements was happening, but also that he himself had solicited several instances of the practice.

During the preparations for the original Coroner’s Inquests, Bettison held meetings with a number of his fellow officers within the South Yorkshire Police to discuss their witness statements, and potentially to press them to change their content. Below is a screenshot of a memo, from the 24th of July 1990, giving notice of one such meeting; –


(If you have difficulty reading the handwriting, it reads as follows; –

“Interview [the] following officers and ask them to re-examine the transcript of their evidence to the Taylor Inquiry as the subject of police “monitoring” of the pens on West Terrace. Obtain further statement if they argue that wrong impression has been given in their original evidence.

1. Chief Insp. CREASER
2. Insp. CALVERT
3. Insp. DARLING
4. Insp. SEWELL”

‘Superintendent Bettison’ is named as the officer allocating the task, bottom-right of the memo.)

At the very least, this clearly indicates that Bettison was knowingly taking part in efforts to get officers to change their stories for one reason or another. In this light, Bettison’s claim to being completely ignorant of alteration processes seems implausible.

Bettison further wrote a faxed letter to Peter Metcalf of Hammonds Suddards Solicitors in 1990, listing off amendments he recommended be made to a statement submitted by former Chief Superintendent Robin Herold.


Item 2.a) is particularly suspicious, as Bettison recommends removal of reference to “any reliance on fortune”. The only reason for that instruction would be a desire to make the police operation at Hillsborough sound better-controlled than it really was.

In fairness, these instances were roughly a year after the Taylor Inquiry completed its work, and it was the statements submitted to Taylor that are the main controversy, so these items do not really establish Bettison’s involvement in the most notorious chapter. But nonetheless, they do show that his claim that he “never asked for [a statement] to be altered” is heavily overstating the case, while the chapter deserves notoriety of its own in any event.

That Bettison seems to have written the book from an angle of unknowing innocence does not therefore do the work’s credibility or appeal any favours. I do perhaps feel duty-bound to read Hillsborough Untold eventually, but I will do so without much urgency.



As I have been writing this, I have listened to Bettison discussing his book with Shelagh Fogarty on LBC Radio, and he has raised more questions than answers. One noticeable change-of-angle during the interview was that he has denied that there was a cover-up by the South Yorkshire Police at all. He points to the fact that the Taylor Interim Report had within four months debunked the claims of fan behaviour causing the Disaster. Therefore, he asks, why are people talking about a cover-up at all when the truth was already out?

There are a number of reasons why these remarks are silly. Firstly, just because Lord Justice Peter Taylor saw through police attempts to shift blame does not mean that the attempts were not made after all, or that the alteration of witness statements to remove criticism of the police operation had not been carried out. (He blames the solicitors for the alteration process. Not entirely wrong of him, but the police never offered any resistance to the idea at all.)

More importantly, an awful lot of the wider public did not cotton on to the real causes of the Disaster when the Taylor Report was published, hence wide numbers of people continued to believe the victim-blaming narrative for decades afterwards, with encouragement from media reporting myths fed to them by the police.

Still more important, however, is that the South Yorkshire Police bitterly rejected Taylor’s findings and, with the help of the West Midlands Police, spent the next several years using the Coroner’s Inquests as a platform from which to ‘un-write’ the Report. Considerable key evidence was hidden from the original Inquests, leading to the incorrect ‘Accidental Death’ verdict.

If that little lot does not constitute a cover-up in Bettison’s mind, I can only thank the stars he is no longer a Chief Constable.