Minister backs enquiry as thousands remember Hillsborough tragedy

By staff writers
April 16, 2009

Thousands of people took part in a united memorial service on Merseyside yesterday, remembering 96 Liverpool football fans who died 20 years ago in the Hillsborough tragedy.

The supporters were crushed to death on 15 April 1989 during Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final tie with Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday FC's Hillsborough stadium - a neutral venue for the high profile match.

A crowd of some 25,000 people at the memorial event gave a massive ovation to familes of the victims, many of whom still believe that their loved ones were victims of an injustice.

They want a new investigation to discover why the tragedy took place. As well as carrying placards, they broke into chants of "Justice for the 96" during UK Culture Secretary Andy Burnham's speech at the service.

A single inquest was held covering the deaths of all the victims at the time. It recorded a verdict of accidental death, but did not investigate what happened after 3.15pm on the day, when it is recorded that the last person died of "aggravated asphyxiation".

Mr Burnham has now joined calls for a "full investigation" into all the events that took place on that fateful day. "The public interest lies very clearly in full disclosure", said the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport

Liverpool supporters were in the Leppings Lane end of the Sheffield stadium 20 years ago. South Yorkshire Police, who oversaw the event, opened a large exit gate that forced too many Liverpool fans on to the terrace, leaving the fans inside trapped between people entering the ground and the metal fences at the front of the stand. This remains a major source of contention.

Blame is also placed on Margaret Thatcher's government, which had insisted that fans be fenced in to prevent hooligan outbursts. The enclosures were removed after the tragedy, and the subsequent enquiry chaired by Lord Taylor led to sweeping changes in domestic football, including all-seater stadiums at big grounds.

At the memorial ceremony yessterday Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina, the team's manager Rafa Benitez, coach Sammy Lee, players Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, ex-boss and player Kenny Dalglish, and the manager of local rivals Everton, David Moyes, were among those greeted with sustained applause.

The stadium fell silent as the Hillsborough death toll was read out and a candle was lit for each victim. The city's rival fans, Liverpool and Everton supporters, stood side by side, arms around each other in shared grief.

The service started at 2.45pm and a two-minute silence was held at 3.06pm, the exact time the game was abandoned two decades ago. At the end of the silence, church bells from around the city rang out 96 times.

Opening the service, the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, said: "On this day, the 20th anniversary of the tragedy at Hillsborough, which broke the heart but not the spirit of our community, Her Majesty the Queen has asked me to say that her thoughts and prayers are with us and all those affected by the tragedy."

He added: "For many here today it seems still like yesterday. Those we lost {are) always in our minds. Never a day passes without a thought of what their tomorrow might have been, without that longing for justice for their sake as well as for ours."

The Hillsborough Families Support Group have led a two-decade long campaign for a full investigation into the events which led to the deaths.

At the service, Trevor Hicks, the former chair of the group, vowed the fight for justice would continue.

As he address the mourning fans, he added: "Still together, still determined, still resolved as ever that the truth will defeat the lies and propaganda."

Another activist, Anne Williams, who lost a son, recently had an appeal for a re-opening of his inquest turned down by the European Coury of Human Rights, but vowed to struggle on.

On the BBC: A survivor, a parent and couple describe their Hillsborough experiences -

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