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Sir Norman Bettison at Preston Crown CourtImage copyright
PA

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Sir Norman Bettison had faced four counts of misconduct in a public office

A former chief inspector accused of trying to blame Liverpool fans for the 1989 Hillsborough disaster has had all charges against him dropped.

Sir Norman Bettison, then of South Yorkshire Police, had faced four counts of misconduct in a public office.

He was accused of telling lies about the “culpability of fans” and his role in the wake of the tragedy.

Prosecutors said insufficient evidence meant there was no real prospect of securing a conviction.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said because of changes in the evidence of two witnesses, and the death of a third, it would discontinue the case.

The decision was taken following a review of the evidence and was confirmed at a hearing at Preston Crown Court.

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The 96 people who lost their lives following the Hillsborough disaster

Prosecutor Sarah Whitehouse QC told the court that since the defendant was charged in June of last year, the “state of the evidence has changed”.

She said one of the two witnesses the Crown relied on for three of the charges, relating to statements he allegedly made blaming Liverpool fans for the disaster, had since died and “significant contradictions” had come to light in the accounts given by the other witness.

Ms Whitehouse said the CPS had a duty to review the evidence and reached the decision there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.

She said the remaining charge related to Sir Norman’s alleged use of the word, “peripheral” in describing his role in the South Yorkshire Police response when he applied for the job of Chief Constable of Merseyside Police in 1998, which had now been “partly retracted” by one witness.

The prosecutor said all four of the counts were part of a “narrative” of a “pattern of behaviour” but because the other three counts had been dropped, the “thread has been lost”.

‘Grave concerns’

Five others, including David Duckenfield who is accused of manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 fans, are due to face trial next year.

Mr Duckenfield was match commander at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium, when 96 Liverpool fans were fatally injured in a crush in the terrace pens.

Under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution for the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, because he died more than a year and a day after his injuries were caused

Read live updates on this story and other news on BBC Local Live.

In a statement following the dropping of charges against Sir Norman, the Hillsborough Family Support Group said: “We have grave concerns about the handling of this case by the CPS and can confirm that we will be exercising our right to an independent review under the Right to Review scheme.

“It is our view that the wrong charge was brought in the first place and we will be using the review process to argue this point strongly.

“We know how our supporters will feel about this decision and, of course, we all share all of those feelings.”

Speaking outside court, Steve Kelly, whose brother Michael died in the disaster, said: “I’m absolutely devastated. I feel as if I’ve been beaten up this morning.

“I feel as though we are treading water a little bit.”

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