Thousands gather for funeral of gun victim Rhys

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The Independent Online

Thousands of people today gathered for the funeral of 11-year-old gun victim Rhys Jones.

Rhys was shot as he walked home from football practice in Croxteth, Liverpool, on August 22.

Hundreds of ordinary members of the public were attending the service at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral wearing bright colours and football shirts following a request by Rhys' parents Melanie, 41, and Stephen, 44, that the service should be a celebration of the youngster's life.

Among those attending were senior players and officials from Rhys' beloved Everton Football Club as well as officials and players from Liverpool FC.

The first to attend today were Rhys' team-mates from the Fir Tree Football Club.

Team manager Stephen Geoghegan, whose son Sean was with Rhys when he was shot, said: "This is the first time the boys have all been together since Rhys was murdered.

"The funeral is a sad occasion for them, I think until now they have been distracted by all the attention which Rhys' murder has brought.

"But inside the cathedral, in the silence and thinking about Rhys, it is very hard for them.

The Everton FC team bus arrived to rapturous applause from the crowds of people standing at the gates of the cathedral.

The team, led by Alan Irvine assistant manager of the club, made their way into the cathedral via a side door.

Among them was player Alan Stubbs who will read Walking with Grief during the service.

The funeral procession pulled into the grounds of the cathedral at 1.50pm accompanied by a wave of applause from the public.

Inside the cathedral it was standing room only despite 1,800 seats being laid out.

Rhys' blue coffin, bearing the Everton crest, was followed by eight cars containing relatives and friends.

Rhys' father Stephen, 44, and brother Owen, 17, wearing their football shirts, carried the small coffin into the cathedral along with Rhys' uncles Neil and David Jones.

The Bishop of Liverpool came out to speak to the family for a few moments before the procession entered the cathedral as the organist played the Everton theme tune Z-Cars.

The opening words were given by Canon Anthony Hawley, the Acting Dean of Liverpool Cathedral before mourners sung the first hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Canon Hawley opened the service saying it would be a celebration of Rhys's life and a time to remember his love of football and friends.

He also said the service would be a time to pray for the ongoing strength of the youngster's family.

Relatives Michelle Taylor and Lisa Winterbottom then read verses from Matthew 18.

After The Lord Is My Shepherd was sung Rhys's uncle Neil Jones gave a moving tribute. He described the youngster as nuts about football and remembered his "short and happy life".

He then read a new poem written by Rhys's father Stephen called Rhys in which the father spoke about his "angel" son.

Everton player Alan Stubbs read "Walking With Grief", a meditation, followed by the Bishop's sermon and prayers.

The final hymn was Abide With Me and following the commendation. Rhys's coffin left the cathedral, as it arrived, to the Everton theme tune Z Cars.

He was buried at a private service attended by family and friends.

Hundreds more mourners were locked outside the cathedral listening to the service on radios.

The crowd was a blaze of colour, many wearing football shirts - mostly the blue and red of the city's Premiership clubs but there were also some in Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle and the shirts of other clubs all showing their support for the Jones family.

As the hearse left the cathedral grounds following the service, applause rang out from those waiting outside lining the streets.

One floral tribute in the hearse next to his coffin spelled out the youngster's name in blue and white on a football scarf made of flowers.

Rhys's father smiled as his car passed the crowds, followed by seven other black limousines.

Rachel Rogers from Liverpool and her husband Paul, from West Hampstead, London, wore QPR shirts at the service.

Ms Rogers, living in Lark Lane, Liverpool, said: "We came because Rhys's family had said everybody was allowed to wear bright football shirts and it just touched a nerve with us being football fans.

"We wanted to represent our team and support his family and the city."

Paul Stott, from Liverpool, wearing an Everton shirt, said: "I came today although I didn't know the family; just because I was once a little boy mad on Everton. It was heartbreaking listening to the service God Bless him."

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