Liverpool stops at 3.06pm, and looks back in sad anger on the day 96 died

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The Independent Online
AT SOME time in the early morning the big white clock at the Kop end of Anfield stadium had been stopped to show a time of six minutes past three.

And when that exact minute came in real time yesterday the tall, spindly figure of Ray Lewis, dressed in his referee's strip, walked out to the penalty spot and blew his whistle once - bringing an entire city to a standstill. It could have been seen as almost comical. A bare-legged, elderly man blowing a tin whistle, watched in complete silence by 10,000 people. On the contrary it was deeply moving. Because everybody in Anfieldknew that exactly 10 years ago, to the second, the same man had blown the same whistle 65 miles away, at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, in a vain attempt to abandon a football match and save the lives of people being slowly crushed to death. His whistle came too late that day. Ninety-six people, most of them under 20 years old, were either dead or dying.

Yesterday's symbolic re-enactment was the signal for the entire population of Liverpool to stop in their tracks. And they did. Buses, taxis, lorries and cars stopped where they stood. And for sixty seconds the only sound was the tolling of the cathedral bell.

All morning, in freezing rain, thousands had walked up the hill to Anfield and the young fans in their red and white scarves made the Kop, as always, a sea of colour. Only the great roaring of the fans was absent. Long silences punctuated the prayers and the singing of a gospel choir. The words were conciliatory and respectful. Above everything else on this mournful day, we were witnessing a city honouring those who had died so obscenely, so needlessly. But underneath it all there was still, after all these years, more than a hint of a powerful rage that justice has still not been done. That there are still scores to be settled.

And after an hour of hearing the comforting words and music of "Abide With Me" and "Amazing Grace", and listening to the words of the great and good of Liverpool hoping for eventual release and peace for the victim's families, so we finally got to the hard, unrelenting message that is still being delivered by a community that cannot rest until somebody, somewhere pays the price of the incompetence that cost so many lives.

Trevor Hicks, who watched his two daughters, 19 year-old Sarah, and Vicki, 15, die on the Hillsborough turf, gave thekeynote speech yesterday. He began quietly. A long list of thanks to dozens of people. He even made a few jokes, pointing out that the stopping of the big clock meant that he could talk as long as he liked and it would still be the same time. But in the end his anger flooded out. And there was no doubt that 10,000 ordinary Liverpudlians agreed with him.

"Some people," he said, "many in positions of authority, politely say that we should let the tenth anniversary be the end of it. Others are more forthright and come out and say they are sick of Hillsborough. The very bold say they are totally sick of us going on about it. I know I speak for many of the families when I say we agree. We are sick of it too.

"We want to get on with our lives, wrecked as they are. We look forward to some peace and quiet. The achievement of that aim could be hastened if all the obstacles were removed and all the information made available, if the ducking and diving stops - and the people responsible stand up and be counted. Nothing would please us more than an early opportunity to test our case in a court of law."

And that was crux of it. After the hundreds of days of inquiries, coroners' inquests, books, films and television documentaries, Trevor Hicks and the Hillsborough families - and the entire city of Liverpool - are still unsatisfied. They want to see police officers in the dock, charged with neglect and incompetence. To that end, their move to bring a private prosecution is still grinding its way through the legal process.

His anger, brief and flaring, brought an even deeper silence over the stadium. And then, in a moment, it was gone. "But that is all for another day," he said quietly.

"Today is about remembering the 96, and how we wish things were different. We know we cannot get them back and we try to come to terms, we try to understand. We seek answers, explanations, the truth, justice." With that he smiled suddenly. And the father who lost his girls on a spring afternoon in Sheffield asked the crowd to get on their feet and sing the song - for more than 30 years the anthem of Liverpool itself - that he says he now loves more than any other.

A mile down the road from Anfield, in a city almost deserted because everybody who could make it was in the stadium, they could hear the crowd roar out the words of "You'll Never Walk Alone".

The last time I stood in Anfield was on the day following Hillsborough. Returning yesterday and watching this city once again offering its grief and strength to the world, I thought of that terrible five year period in the late Eighties when the world seemed to produce one disaster after another.

Working for this newspaper during those years I had seen the flames that devoured thePiper Alpha rig, and the hundreds of bodies being brought ashore. I was there the night when an escalator at King's Cross tube station was turned into a blowtorch. I had followed the murderous path of a crazed gunman through the streets of Hungerford. I had seen the upturned hull of the Herald of Free Enterprise outside Zeebrugge and the lines of bodybags lying in a warehouse. And I had looked down into the great black hole in Lockerbie and seen the scores of naked bodies lying scattered on a golf course and hanging from the rooftops. All of these catastrophes were caused either by the insane actions of men or a random act of fate, involving usually a measure of neglect or incompetence. And those who had perished were just going about their business, travelling home, walking the streets of their town.

But Hillsborough was different from the rest. The 96 people who had the life crushed out of them that day were a complete and close community, a faithful army of Saturday afternoon pilgrims, who died because they loved something.

They were the lifeblood, financially and physically, of an industry that was still, in 1989, greedy, corrupt, smug and incompetent. It could even be murderous.

We had seen death on a massive scale in death-trap stadiums from Ibrox to Heysel and Bradford with hundreds crushed and burnt to death. And at Hillsborough Stadium we saw the final flowering of their contempt as they forced the supporters into cages and squeezed them to death. Yesterday was all about remembrance. It did credit to a city and its people in its simplicity and reverence. But under the surface the rage and the cries for revenge and punishment are still strong. It may be that someday those now broken and despised men, like Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield and several of his named colleagues, may have to answer for their disastrous decisions on that day. Others may have to explain the lies and deceit that was rife among South Yorkshire police in the following years.

But they did not set out to kill anybody on that spring afternoon. It was the Glory Game itself that did that.