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Rafa Benitez welcomes truth about Hillsborough

By Nicola Anderson

Former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has welcomed the emergence of the truth about the Hillsborough disaster, saying fans had been expecting this "for a long, long time".

The report into the disaster, which exonerated the Liverpool fans from any blame, was a "positive" step which would help the families of the 96 victims to move forward, he said.

Published on Wednesday by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, the damning report found that 164 police statements were altered, mostly to obscure "unfavourable" comments about the policing of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989.

Benitez paid tribute to the strength of the Liverpool fans, who, he said, made the club more than a football team but "an institution that belongs to a wider community".

In his new book 'Champions League Dreams', launched in Dublin yesterday, Benitez recalled the squad going to Anfield for the 20th anniversary ceremony of the Hillsborough disaster a couple of days after being eliminated from the Champions League.

More than 30,000 people attended the commemoration and began a moving rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' as the players walked from the tunnel.

"Nowhere else in the world would a team be able to return to its home stadium, the day after being eliminated from a competition, and be greeted by such warmth on an occasion of such sadness," Benitez said.

Benitez chose Ireland to launch his book because of its wonderful football fans.

"You can really see the passion for Liverpool here," he said.

More than 300 Liverpool fans joined the queue at Easons on O'Connell Street yesterday to meet their hero.

Keith Byrne (37), from Rathfarnham, Dublin, who has MS, insisted on rising from his wheelchair to get his jersey signed and to shake hands with Benitez.

"That's it now -- I'll never wash it again. I'm going to get it framed," he said.

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