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Hillsborough Tragedy: Memorial For 96 Killed Held At Anfield (PICTURES)

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HILLSBOROUGH
Members of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign carry floral tributes | PA

The annual memorial service to mark the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool FC supporters died was held on Sunday.

Families of the victims and thousands of fans were joined by club manager Kenny Dalglish and his first team squad for the sombre occasion at Anfield stadium.

They came to remember the fans who died in the crush at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday's ground at the beginning of an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

Candles were lit in front of the watching crowd in The Kop end for each of the victims whose names were read out, while the hymn Abide With Me was sang.

PICTURES: Scroll down for images from the memorial service

A minute's silence was staged up to 3.06pm - the exact time when the referee blew the whistle to abandon the game as the disaster unfolded.

The tragedy happened during Dalglish's first tenure as Liverpool manager.

Shortly after the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, the Government, with emergency services in South Yorkshire and Sheffield City Council, agreed to open up previously unseen documents relating to the tragedy.


Liverpool players attend the service

In a speech at the service, Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, addressed the recent comments of comedian Alan Davies who ridiculed the club's refusal to play on 15 April.

She said: "When certain people made certain comments about Liverpool Football Club should be playing on the 15th of April, I am afraid that person wants to learn to keep his comments to himself and his opinions to himself.

"Because when comments like that offend and hurt so many thousands of people it's quite obvious he has got nothing else to worry about in his life as what we have had for 23 years."

Her criticism was greeted with loud cheers and applause.

Following the furore that greeted the remarks on his weekly football podcast, Davies made a £1,000 donation to the campaign group - which it refused - and apologised for the tone.

The public disclosure is being overseen by an independent panel chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, and is due to report back this autumn.

She said that the parliamentary debate on Hillsborough last October would "stay in my memory".

"It made the families, and I am sure the survivors and the fans, for the first time that the mud that was being flung at us for 23 years was actually getting taken away," she said.


Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish leaves Sunday's service

Ms Aspinall thanked all the MPs who were present at the debate including local MPs Steve Rotheram who read out each of the victims' names in the House of Commons, Andy Burnham, Derek Twigg and Maria Eagle.

She also gave special praise to the current Home Secretary.

"I would also like to thank Theresa May who sat there on that evening and did not move and listened to what everyone had to say," she said.

The chairwoman continued: "Over the past 23 years we as families, you as fans and also the survivors, more importantly, who had the mud slung at them for them 23 years was an absolute disgrace and I think it's about time now that we stood our ground and let them know we were all innocent victims that day. We done nothing wrong. We all went to watch a football match. That's it."

She thanked everyone at Liverpool Football Club for the support they had given to the Hillsborough families over the years and also everyone who attended today's service which was organised by the support group.

"Twenty-three years today and you have never let us down," she said to the crowd, some wearing Everton shirts. "You make us all feel proud and the 96 so proud of you for supporting us all these years."

Yesterday, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and Everton skipper Phil Neville each presented a bouquet of flowers to members of the support group on the pitch before the teams' FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

An impeccable silence was marked by both sets of supporters in honour of those who lost their lives 23 years ago and players from both teams wore black armbands during the match which Liverpool won 2-1.


Dirk Kuyt walks past 96 candles

Ms Aspinall, whose son, James, 18, died at Hillsborough, praised both sets of supporters for their conduct at Wembley.

"Our two clubs, Everton Football Club and Liverpool Football Club, they made our city proud and I was proud to be a Merseysider yesterday," she said.

"We have many times discussed over the years, it's not just about football it's about respect.Yesterday both Everton and Liverpool showed a great deal of respect to the 96 who died at Hillsborough and for that we are truly grateful."

Among those present today were former Liverpool players Phil Thompson and Ian Rush, and ex-manager Roy Evans.

The service was officiated by the Rev Kelvin Bolton, of Walton Breck Christ Church and Holy Church, the Rev Keith Parr, of Oakfield Methodist Church, and Fr Stephen Moloney, of All Saints Catholic Church, Anfield, who all took turns to read out the names of the 96.

The Reds' popular Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt read Psalm 23, while the club's managing director, Ian Ayre, read The Gospel according to St John, Chapter 14, Verses 1 to 3.

Jonathan Aasgaard, principal cellist with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, played JS Bach's Sarabande from Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor.

Other hymns sang by the Liverpool-based The Love and Joy Gospel Choir were I Watch The Sunrise and Amazing Grace.

Lee Roy James sang The Hillsborough Anthem - a specially composed song about the disaster - and received a standing ovation.

Neil McHale sang the club's anthem, You'll Never Walk Alone, and 96 red balloons were let out into the sky.

The service drew to a close with many in the congregation singing another popular terrace anthem on The Kop - Justice For The 96.

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