As the verdict from the Hillsborough inquest filtered through at Anfield, two Liverpool Football Club fans who had never previously met stood side by side next to a flower covered memorial at the stadium clutching a mobile phone.
Liverpool supporter Beryl Mealand, 64, was carrying flowers with a message written on the front which read ‘27 long years, JFT96, In God We Trust, YNWA’.
Dressed in Liverpool red with ‘Justice 96’ printed on the back of her club jersey, she was at the ground with Marie Darwin, 52, a Liverpool FC season ticket holder who was dressed all in black.
Marie held a mobile phone they were using to stream the hearing in Warrington and she was visibly shaking as the conclusions from the inquest were read out.
“Why has it taken 27 years?” And “That’s right, the fans weren’t to blame,” said Marie as the outcome became apparent.
Marie was at that fateful football match that claimed the lives of 96 fans. It was the first time she had attended a Liverpool match away from Anfield.
She told of how she had lived with the pain of the experience every day since and of how it felt to hear the fans cleared of any blame.
Fighting back tears, she said: “It’s just so emotional after 27 years. I was there on the day and the year before when it was so safe. That’s why I wanted to be here (at Anfield) today - it’s my second home. I always feel safe here.
“Because we are only a small city we all know someone who has lost someone so it’s with us every day. For 27 years we have lived with it every single day in some way.
“The fact that it (the inquest) has gone our way, it’s amazing - it’s for the families.”
Beryl said: “Everyone knows the truth and justice has been done at last. But it will stay with us forever.”
Today is just another working day for the football club. Contractors are busy coming and going in lorries as the redevelopment of the main stand continues to boost capacity. Yorkshireman James Milner, who now plies his trade with Liverpool having previously served at Leeds United was seen being ushered into one corner of the stadium.
But the atmosphere was very different to just any normal day. Where there has been mourning and tears of sadness and frustration as families stood together and fought for 27 long years in their search for the truth, today the mood was different.
Other supporters and people of the city arrived to pay their respects. Scarves and shirts left by fans of rival teams lined the foot of the memorial.
Red and white flowers spelling ‘Dad’ stood proudly among the tributes, some of which included pictures of fans who lost their lives. The plaque fixed to the wall above lists each and every individual supporter who travelled to Hillsborough that day and never came home.
Marie told of how she was going to sit in the Leppings Lane end - where the disaster unfolded at the home of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club - for the cup match against Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989, but that she had got a swap to sit with friends in a different part of the ground.
“Twenty-seven years, court cases, fighting, the families and this is what it’s come to today - it’s absolutely wonderful,” Marie said. “People didn’t believe us but I was there. We weren’t to blame.”
Beryl added: “It’s like a shadow over Anfield has been lifted. Right through every day I have felt it, now I can feel the sadness lifting. No one has given up and it’s been worth every penny, every flower.”
Another supporter who stopped by at Anfield, Diane Cotterill said: “As fans and families we knew we weren’t to blame but we wanted to show everyone else this was the case. It’s an emotional day.”
A few miles from the stadium, people have gathered outside St George’s Hall in the city centre where a big screen has been showing news coverage of the inquest’s conclusions; the sound relayed through giant speakers.
The front of the Neoclassical-style hall to the side of the screen has been cordoned off with red rope and in a simple but powerful tribute to the Hillsborough victims, 96 silver lanterns containing red candles line a step from one side of the building’s entrance to the other.
Above the candles a giant banner has been assembled which reads, in big red letters, Truth Justice. Behind the letters are printed the names of each of the 96 supporters. A round of applause rippled out from the onlookers as workmen completed putting the banner in position.
To the rear of the hall stands another permanent memorial to the disaster where flowers remained following the 27th anniversary commemorations earlier this month. Fresh floral tributes are being added there today.
Tim Price and Chloe Moss were among those who brought flowers.
They said: “Twenty-seven years is too long. It’s a relief for the families that have campaigned for this. Justice is a human right as a citizen of this country. You shouldn’t have to campaign for it. It should be automatic. To have this officially as the truth is long overdue.”
Another local woman Tracy Heron added: “It’s great. We all knew really (that it wasn’t the fans fault) but we weren’t sure we would get justice, and it’s prevailed. The spirit of the people who fought against it has been amazing.”
Fitting words on a day when the people of Liverpool breathe a collective sigh of relief that after years of determination, justice for the 96 is in their grasp.