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Scars will never heal but justice is coming

NINETY-SIX seats, draped in scarves, lay empty.

Steven Gerrard and Roberto Martinez were among the attendees
Steven Gerrard and Roberto Martinez were among the attendees

As the footballing cathedral of Anfield fell silent at 3.06pm, church and civic bells rang out 96 times around the city of Liverpool.

Throughout it all, two words remained at the forefront of Gary Gillespie's mind. Justice, and truth.

The 53-year-old Scot was part of the Liverpool side on that horrific afternoon in April 1989 when an FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest turned into one of the greatest tragedies to be witnessed on these shores.

As the early stages of the match played out, a crush developed in the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground. It was to cost 96 Liverpool supporters their lives and leave scars upon a city that are never likely to completely heal.

Gillespie concedes his memories of the immediate aftermath, things one could never even begin to forget, will remain with him forever.

However, having taken his place as a humble member of the congregation on the Kop, at the memorial service staged within the stadium he called home for nine successful years, he feels this is no time to indulge in personal recollection.

His eyes are on the present and the young children of the bereaved families, all relations of those who died, that he saw within Anfield's walls yesterday afternoon. Unlike many of those before them, they have the opportunity to grow up knowing the exact details of what happened at Hillsborough and cannot be denied that right.

An independent panel set up to investigate the disaster announced back in September 2012 that no Liverpool fans were responsible in any way for what happened.

Apologies duly came from, among others, the prime minister, Sheffield Wednesday and the South Yorkshire Police.

It is, however, the Independent Police Complaints Commission's unprecedented inquiry - the biggest ever undertaken by the body - and its criminal counterpart Operation Resolve which have resulted in 13 retired or serving police officers facing accusations of manslaughter, misconduct and perverting the course of justice.

Justice does, indeed, appear to be coming for the 96 and Gillespie, like the whole of Merseyside, will rejoice when it finally comes to pass.

"What happened that day is always in the back of your mind, but it really isn't about what the likes of myself remember," stated Gillespie.

"It is about the families of the bereaved and it was noticeable when you saw them arriving at Anfield that there are young children there now. A different generation is growing to appreciate what actually happened and getting the truth.

"It was always going to be an emotional time and, of course, you think about how you feel. However, you quickly consider the way the families must be feeling. It has been a long, hard road for them and I hope the end of the tunnel is in sight.

"The truth is out now and justice is the next thing for the families to get. There are many steps closer to that than they were 25 years ago.

"Fingers crossed everything goes the way people expect and that justice will come."

Gillespie listened intently to the speeches made yesterday by the likes of the Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, his Everton counterpart Roberto Martinez and former government minister Andy Burnham, who was booed at the 20th anniversary of the disaster and was given, in his words, "the political courage to do something" in pushing for the Hillsborough Independent Panel to be established after previous calls for a fresh inquiry had been rebuffed.

Gillespie was also heartened by a sense of warmth and humour, a feeling that a new page in this dreadful story is being turned in a reminder of what makes Liverpool such a special British city.

"Everyone who spoke did so from the heart and did very well, indeed," he said. "Roberto Martinez was really, really good and the service was everything we expected. Liverpool and the Hillsborough Family Trust always do it properly.

"If you look back five years, Andy Burnham's reception was very different from the one he got this time. There were upbeat moments as well because there is a belief things will be done and sorted out.

"There is always the fact 96 people went to a football match and never came back, but it was tinged with humour at times and that is what makes cities like Liverpool and Glasgow special. The people have that in their DNA and that's what makes the two cities what they are."

Lord Justice Taylor's report into the events of 1989 led to all-seater stadia becoming the norm on the British Isles. Of course, those findings are now being re-evaluated with a national campaign for 'safe standing' areas gathering pace, but Gillespie believes that idea will never win support at Anfield and wonders about its worth elsewhere.

"One good thing that has come from it is that we have all-seater stadiums," said Gillespie. "I know there has been a clamour in recent months for standing sections coming back, but I don't think that will ever happen at Anfield.

"That would just be too hard to bear. Football is a different game now and people's attitudes towards it are slightly different, but you cannot forget what happened."

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