A crowd of 22,000 packed two sides of Liverpool football club’s Anfield football ground for a deeply emotional 27th anniversary memorial service to the 96 people who died at Hillsborough in 1989, as the jury at the new inquests into the disaster continues its deliberations into how they died.
Bereaved families sitting in the Kop heard readings and passionate speeches from Trevor Hicks and Margaret Aspinall, respectively the president and chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, which has collectively decided this year’s will be the final service held at Anfield.
Hicks and Aspinall both thanked Liverpool’s players, officials, and manager, Jürgen Klopp, who were sitting alongside the families, the day after the stadium roared to a remarkable 4-3 comeback victory by Klopp’s team over Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League. Hicks, who has given harrowing evidence at the inquests about his unsuccessful efforts to save his two teenage daughters, Sarah, 19, and Vicki, 15, paid tribute to the years of solidarity among the bereaved families as they campaigned for a new inquest. He also acknowledged the 1958 Munich air disaster suffered by Manchester United, and said football supporters should not abuse each other’s disasters, as a minority of United and Liverpool fans have, but be “united in grief”.
The 96 people who died, all Liverpool supporters, aged 10 to 67, were killed following a lethal crush on Hillsborough’s Leppings Lane terrace at the FA Cup semi final against Nottingham Forest, in which 400 more people were taken to hospital with crush-related injuries. The new inquests, ordered after the first was finally quashed in December 2012 following the families’ long campaign against the 1991 verdict, has lasted more than two years since it started on 1 April 2014, becoming by far the longest legal case heard by a jury in British history.
After several delays to the summing up of evidence by the coroner, Sir John Goldring, mostly due to illness among the jury, he concluded it and sent the jury to consider its determinations last Wednesday. The following day, one juror was discharged, leaving three men and six women to answer 14 questions set by Goldring about how the 96 people came to die, including whether they were unlawfully killed.
Goldring has directed the jury that to reach a verdict of unlawful killing, they must be satisfied that the South Yorkshire police officer in charge of the event, chief superintendent David Duckenfield, committed manslaughter by gross negligence. Goldring’s directions state that for gross negligence to be proved, the jury must be sure that Duckenfield’s breach of his duty of care to supporters at the semi final “was so bad, having regard to the risk of death involved, as in your view to amount to a criminal act or omission”.
Aspinall, whose 18 year old son, James, died in the crush, said that on legal advice, she and Hicks were restricted in what they could say to the crowd while the jury is considering its determinations. She thanked her predecessor as chair, Phil Hammond, for his major contribution, Liverpool football club for hosting the memorial service annually since 1989, and particularly the Liverpool supporters and survivors of the crush, for appearing as witnesses at the inquests. “For them to come to give evidence, to go through that pain again, was incredible,” Aspinall said.
During the service, a light was turned on for each of the 96 people who died, as their names were read out, a ritual of remembrance which took longer than five minutes. Kenny Dalglish, manager of Liverpool at the semi final, highly respected by the families for his humane response to the deaths, gave a biblical reading, as did Graeme Sharpe, the former striker for Liverpool’s local rivals, Everton. Phil Scraton, principal author of the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report which led to the first inquest being quashed, gave a passionate speech recalling the campaigning years.
Aspinall announced in February that this service would be the last to be held at Anfield, because the new inquests will be concluded this year. After the speeches and prayers by local clergy, family members released white doves from the Anfield pitch, in memory of the 96 people who died. Finally, the 22,000 people in attendance hoisted scarves aloft, and sang the Liverpool football club anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone, in memory and tribute to the 96 people who went to watch their team 27 years ago, and never came home.
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