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UK policeman accused over soccer stadium disaster to retire

By Tim Castle

LONDON (Reuters) - A senior police officer accused of taking part in a cover-up of police failings in the worst sporting disaster in British history - a soccer stadium crush in which 96 fans were killed - said on Thursday he would retire next year.

Norman Bettison, chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, said he would stand down in March to allow a full investigation into allegations about his "integrity" to be conducted.

Bettison, who denies any wrongdoing, was off-duty but present at the Hillsborough Stadium in the northern English city of Sheffield in 1989 when 96 Liverpool supporters were killed in a crowd crush.

A damning report last month uncovered evidence that the police response to the disaster had been flawed, that 41 lives could have been saved and that officers had tried to dishonestly deflect the blame on to fans.

More than 100 statements taken at the time had been doctored to remove evidence that painted the police in a negative light, the report found.

Following its publication, a police watchdog said it was considering two complaints against Bettison.

The most serious alleged that the police chief "was involved in the production and supply of misleading information" for official inquiries into the disaster, the watchdog said.

Bettison, who has been West Yorkshire's most senior officer since 2007, had originally been due to retire in January this year but had his term extended.

"However, recent weeks have caused me to reflect on what is best for the future of policing in West Yorkshire and I have now decided to set a firm date for my retirement of 31 March 2013," he said in a statement on Thursday.

Bettison has already apologized for saying last month that fans' behavior at Hillsborough had made the police's job harder than it needed to be.

(Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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