The families of Hillsborough victims have welcomed the suspension of the South Yorkshire police chief as tens of thousands gathered for a vigil to mark the 27-year struggle for justice.
In a rousing speech on the steps of Liverpool’s St George’s Hall, Margaret Aspinall, one of the leading Hillsborough campaigners, told the 20,000-strong crowd: “It’s nice to know we’ve started on the right track with somebody who’s been suspended from South Yorkshire police.”
To cheers, Aspinall called for more heads to roll: “Let’s hope that’s only the beginning of what’s going to be done because all you, like all of us, have had 27 years of sleepless nights. Let’s hope they’re getting theirs now. It starts from now.”
Her speech came soon after South Yorkshire police announced the suspension of David Crompton, its chief constable, who was under pressure over the force’s handling of the two-year inquest.
Aspinall, who lost her 18-year-old son James in the disaster, described the inquest verdict as a victory for all Merseysiders: “We have shown this country how you change a system – it took the Scousers yet again!”
Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager on the day of the fateful FA Cup semi final, read the poem Footsteps at the commemoration, which saw hundreds of relatives of the 96 victims line the steps of St George’s Hall.
The family members walked out to huge applause and chants of “Justice for the 96”. Young footballers from both Everton and Liverpool clubs laid 96 red roses out on the neo-classical building, beside a candle for each fan that died on 15 April 1989.
Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, took to the platform to chants of “There’s only one Andy Burnham” as he read the names of dozens of those who died, alongside readings by Liverpool MPs Maria Eagle and Steve Rotherham.
To shouts of “scum” and “disgrace”, Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, attacked the Sun and the Times for neglecting to mention Hillsborough on the front pages of Wednesday’s newspapers. The Times included a reference to the inquest on its front page from its later second edition.
Anderson said: “Half the world’s media have been here for the last two days and every other paper put Hillsborough on the front page. But Murdoch’s lackies didn’t think it was important enough. Even now they are denying the fans the spotlight they truly deserve. Even now they insult and disrespect the families of the 96.”
Anderson also took aim at Boris Johnson for an editorial that described Liverpudlians as “seeing themselves wherever possible as victims”, published when he was editor of the Spectator in 2004.
He said: “Let me tell Boris: this isn’t a self-pity city. This is a self-gritty city full of true honest grit. It’s in our DNA to fight against injustice at every opportunity, something we are proud of.”
At Liverpool’s town hall, onlookers stood in silence as the bells tolled 96 times at 3.06pm, the time the FA Cup semi-final was stopped.
Samantha Ellam, 48, was making her way into work with her friend Barbara Jones, 60, when they stopped in their tracks and bowed their heads to remember the victims. “There’s a lot of togetherness here. Someone said it on the radio and I agree: yesterday and today I’ve felt a closeness in the city,” she said.
Jones said Liverpool had an image problem but that Liverpudlians had an inner strength to battle injustices like Hillsborough. She said: “We have a negative reputation but if you’re actually from Liverpool it is a positive feeling you get to carry you through when you need it.”
She added: “It must’ve been cathartic for them [the Hillsborough victims’ families] that the right result was found and maybe some time in the future the right people will be brought to account for the injustice that was done for the last 27 years.”
Debbie Thompson, 49, was with her 83-year-old mother, Maud Thompson, as big screens were being erected outside the venue in preparation for the vigil. “It’s very moving. We couldn’t not be in the city centre and not visit St George’s Hall today,” she said. “This is where the emotion is and where you can pay your respects. Everybody knows someone who was there.”
Fruit-seller Terry Bennett, 72 – the self-styled “biggest bananaman in the country” – swapped his usual stall at Bootle market for a pitch outside St George’s Hall to give away free fruit. Bennett, who was in the upper tier of Hillsborough’s Leppings Lane end on the day of the disaster, said it was a phenomenal time for Liverpool.
“It means that our city can relax. We haven’t got that worry in our head of everyone who accused the supporters,” he said. “It’s took 27 years to get the truth out and now every single scouser feels relief. Everyone you speak to – it is unreal. It means absolutely the world. It’s like when my first grandson was born – this is the same feeling.”
Others outside St George’s Hall were daytrippers, including Brian Crick, 83, who was on a tour of Liverpool’s Anfield football stadium with his wife on Tuesday afternoon when the inquest verdicts were returned.
This story has been reproduced from today's media. It does not necessarily represent the position of Liverpool Football Club.