Hundreds attend marathon runner Claire Squires' funeral


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Hundreds of people attended a funeral today to pay their respects to a woman who was described as having "left a legacy" after her supporters raised more than £1 million for charity following her death during the London Marathon.

Some 700 family, friends and well-wishers packed into St Andrew's Church in North Kilworth, Leicestershire, this afternoon for a service to celebrate the life of hairdresser Claire Squires, who collapsed and died less than a mile from the finishing line of the 26.2-mile course on Birdcage Walk near Buckingham Palace on April 22.

The congregation wore touches of red, the 30-year-old's favourite colour, at the request of the family.

Since her death, her supporters have helped to raise more than £1 million for the Samaritans.

Miss Squires was running for the Samaritans in recognition of work done by her mother, who volunteered for the charity for 24 years.

Leading the service today, Baptist minister and family friend Pastor Johnny Hutton said: "Many people have said that Claire was so much like that Samaritan who was prepared to help someone regardless of who they were or where they came from."

Some 200 people packed into the 150-seater church, while hundreds more listened to the service outside through a speaker system.

The service followed a private burial this morning which saw Miss Squire laid to rest in the same grave as her brother Grant, who died at the age of 25 in 2001.

Miss Squires' parents Priscilla, known as Cilla, and Paul were not present at the burial but attended the funeral service afterwards with her sisters Maxine, Nicola and Penny.

There was laughter, tears and applause during tributes read out by family and friends at today's service.

Miss Squires' youngest sister, Penny, tearfully told the congregation: "She has left a huge legacy in her footsteps with over a million pounds raised for charity and she has become the nation's sweetheart. I'm so proud to call her my sister."

She said Claire, known as "Bear" to friends and family, was "beautiful, inside and out", "lived life to the full" and was a "go-getter".

Miss Squires' partner, Mr Van Herrewege, also struggled to read out his tribute during the service.

"I would like to recognise the overwhelming amount of support from people across the world who have taken Claire into their hearts," he said.

"Everyone who knew Claire knew what a beautiful, fun and caring girl she was; now it seems like an awful lot more people know that."

He added that the level of generosity had been "mind-blowing" and that her legacy would make life "better for other people, just like she did ours".

The Rev Emma Davies thanked the hundreds of people attending today's service and described Miss Squires as a "truly beautiful" person who "sparkled".

Meanwhile, local Baptist minister and family friend Pastor Johnny Hutton, who led the service, said: "Many people have said that Claire was so much like that Samaritan who was prepared to help someone regardless of who they were or where they came from.

"Claire's life has inspired others to do the same and her tragic death has caught people's attention so that she has left this amazing legacy.

"Those who have donated should also be commended for their giving.

"I know the family have been moved by the generosity of so many, particularly from children and those who could ill afford to give.

"Claire's life and it seems untimely death will long be remembered by many more than just family and friends because of this unprecedented response."

Applause could be heard inside and outside the church as the congregation joined in the Lord's Prayer, bringing the 45-minute service to an end.

Among the flowers and tributes left outside the church was a bouquet from the the Moko hair salon in Market Harborough where she worked, and a bear made of jelly sweets.

A card on another bouquet read "Bear, we love and miss you so much. God must have needed an extra special person to have taken you. You're now with Grant so look after each other."

A record, Running by Alan Braxe and Fred Falke, was also left. The message said "Your fav request. This will always remind me of you. Spencer."

Speaking on behalf of the family after the service today, Catherine Johnstone, chief executive of the Samaritans, said: "This is a very difficult time for everyone here.

"The funeral service was beautiful and very touching and all the family and friends here today are testament to the wonderful woman that Claire was.

"Her family and friends are all incredibly proud of Claire, a person who always put other people before herself. We would like to say thank you, and a heartfelt thank you, to the thousands of people who have kindly donated in Claire's memory.

"During this difficult time, Claire's family have found both warmth and comfort from the incredibly supportive reaction from the general population and the nation at large.

"Cilla, Claire's mum, had been a volunteer for the Samaritans, and still is, and has been there for 24 years, decades of time with us helping those who have nowhere else to turn.

"Through the donations to the Samaritans, Claire's legacy will live on and we are asking you to respect the family's privacy now while we spend some time thinking about how we can maximise that legacy and how that legacy can live on in Claire's name.

"Chad Varah who set Samaritans up nearly 60 years ago said the Samaritans was all about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I think today, and the last 10 days, bear witness to just how extraordinary Claire was and she will be sadly missed by everybody, but hugely remembered."