Queen's professor hailed as 96 Hillsborough victims are given Freedom of Liverpool
A Queen's University professor who played a key role in uncovering the truth about the 1989 Hillsborough disaster received the biggest cheer of the night as the 96 victims were posthumously given the Freedom of the City of Liverpool in an emotional "bittersweet" ceremony.
Families of those who lost their lives in Britain's worst sporting tragedy on April 15, 1989, collected a specially designed scroll and a unique medal with the name of their loved one inscribed on it.
It was the first time the city has posthumously awarded its highest civic honour.
Also receiving the Freedom of the City at St George's Hall from the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Roz Gladden, were Queen's University academic Professor Phil Scraton, who led the research by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, and former Liverpool FC manager Kenny Dalglish and his wife, Marina.
Each family member who picked up their award was greeted with rapturous applause, as were the Dalglishes.
But the biggest cheer of the evening was reserved for Prof Scraton, whose tireless campaigning since the tragedy eventually led to the fresh inquests into the deaths, the unlawful killing verdicts from the jury in Warrington and the ongoing criminal investigation.
Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said she was "delighted" that Prof Scraton had been honoured by his home city, while Trevor Hicks, whose daughters Sarah (19) and Victoria (15) died in the tragedy, said it was "very deserving".
Speaking ahead of the service, Prof Scraton said: "On the one hand it's a bittersweet experience. We should not be here and those people should never have died, so I cannot help but think that the most important part of tonight is the commemoration of those who died.
"But at the same time, it is also a celebration - a celebration of ordinary people who can pick up the mantle and fight for justice, and that they can win.
"To me that is a tremendous, tremendous indication to other families in other situations to never give up.
"From my own point of view, I did a job. I'm an academic, I'm from Liverpool. I knew from the outset intuitively what I felt had happened at Hillsborough, and I worked on it.
"I felt I should never give up because I don't think you can commit to something like this just for a short time."
A criminologist, Prof Scraton was given funding by Liverpool Council for an independent scrutiny of the investigations and inquiries following the disaster.
He provided extensive submissions to the 1997-1998 judicial scrutiny undertaken by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith and remained highly critical of the inquiry, describing it as a "debacle". His book Hillsborough: The Truth is now widely accepted as a definitive account of the disaster and its aftermath.
Scraton was appointed to the Hillsborough Independent Panel and the professor largely penned its subsequent report.
The panel's study led directly to the quashing of the 96 inquest verdicts of accidental death, and the ordering of the new inquests and a full criminal investigation into the disaster.
By Kim Pilling