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Liverpool pays tribute to victims of Hillsborough disaster

Latest update : 2009-04-16

Twenty years to the day after the Hillsborough disaster, when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death during an FA Cup semi-final, the city of Liverpool paid an emotional tribute to the victims of the tragedy.

AFP - Liverpool fans paid an emotional tribute to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster on Wednesday, the 20th anniversary of the tragedy in which 96 supporters were crushed to death.

Grieving families were joined by tens of thousands of sympathisers at Liverpool Football Club's Anfield ground to remember the victims of Britain's worst sporting disaster.

The tragedy was caused by massive overcrowding in the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield's Hillsborough stadium at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

For relatives, survivors and those present on the day, the anniversary has revived the heartache of the tragedy, in which helpless fans, fenced in, were crushed to death.

The Anfield service mixed sadness and remembrance with calls for justice and anger that nobody has been convicted over the disaster.

To ease overcrowding outside the Leppings Lane end, police opened an exit gate, allowing supporters to flood into the central pens.

People fell silent for two minutes across Liverpool, outside Hillsborough and in Nottingham's main square at 3:06 pm (1406 GMT), exactly 20 years on from the moment the match was abandoned as the scale of the horror began to unfold.

At Anfield, the names of the dead were read out, with a sombre bell tolling and a candle lit for each one.

Liverpool players past and present were among the congregation and messages of sympathy from Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Gordon Brown were conveyed.

"We will never forget what happened at Hillsborough 20 years ago," said the city's Lord Mayor Steve Rotheram, who in 1989 was a bricklayer attending the game.

"We salute the bravery of those Liverpool fans whose heroics helped save countless lives while those charged with ensuring our safety stood idly by and watched."

One song sung included the refrain: "For those who are to blame, hang your heads in shame. Only then will their spirits be free."

Culture Secretary (minister) Andy Burnham was interrupted by the crowd, who chanted "Justice for the 96."

The disaster "finally ushered in the end of an era when the treatment of supporters was poor and their safety an afterthought," he said.

"Hillsborough's permanent legacy is that young and old will forever be safer at matches but we grieve that it took a tragedy on this scale to bring that about."

Following the tragedy, Lord Justice Peter Taylor was commissioned to conduct an inquiry that would have a far-reaching impact on the game.

He was deeply critical of the police response at Hillsborough, but his most significant recommendations were the removal of perimeter fencing and the creation of all-seater stadiums.

The report has been cited as playing a part in the transformation of English football from the dark days of 1980s into the globally-watched spectacle of today.

At Anfield, there was still anger Wednesday, two decades on, at an article by The Sun newspaper from the time that accused Liverpool fans of stealing from the victims and urinating on the police. The tabloid is still widely boycotted in Liverpool.

Besides the dead, more than 700 people were injured in the crush.

Former players, witnesses and relatives of the dead relived their painful experiences in the build-up to Wednesday's memorial.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard's 10-year-old cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley was the youngest victim of the tragedy.

"Seeing his mum and his dad and his close family, the reaction on their faces, helped drive me on to become the player I am today," the England midfielder said.

"Time has gone by, but the scars will never, ever be healed and the fans will never, ever forget."

Date created : 2009-04-15