Tributes to Hillsborough victims: Not hooligans, just working people who loved football

The widow of one of the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough disaster has told the jury at the inquests examining the tragedy that her husband “was not a hooligan but a hard-working family man who just happened to love football”.

Trevor Hicks (left), Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts at the Hillsborough inquest

Kathleen Thompson had to stop a number of times to compose herself and wipe away tears as she read a statement about her husband, Patrick Thompson, who was one of the Liverpool fans who died at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium in April 1989.

Mrs Thompson told the 11 jurors: “Even now my children love their dad so much and it gets harder for them. They’re adults now and all they want is justice for their dad.

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“Please listen to the evidence and let my children know that their dad was not a hooligan but a hard-working family man who just happened to love football.”

Her emotional statement was one of the first “pen portraits” of the 96 people who died to be read at the hearing in Warrington, Cheshire.

The coroner, Lord Justice Goldring, has ruled that these biographies should form the first section of evidence at the inquests, which could last up to a year.

As family member after family member came to the witness box to recount their memories of their loved ones, a number of the 250 people in the purpose-built courtroom were in tears.

Mrs Thompson was supported in the witness box by two of her five children as she remembered the British Rail guard who was 35 when he died at the ground.

Mrs Thompson said that what “hurts the most” is that her children have grown up with limited memories of their father or, in the case of the three youngest, no memories at all.

The first statement to be read out was from Susan Horrocks, the wife of 41-year-old Arthur Horrocks, which was read by her son, Jon.

Mrs Horrocks said in the statement: “This has been the hardest thing I have ever had to write.

“But I hope it goes some way towards saying what a wonderful husband and best friend he was to me as well as a devoted a much-loved dad, brother, uncle and friend and how much we all miss him every day.”

Father-of-two Mr Horrocks was an insurance agent who lived for his family, she said.

“Arthur was full of fun and nothing was too much trouble for him,” the statement continued. “Arthur worshipped our sons.”

Wilf Whelan also told the jury his son Ian, who was 19 when he died at the stadium, was not a hooligan.

He said: “He wasn’t a football hooligan.

“He even attended Mass of his own free will every Sunday without fail.

“My family feel that they have had to defend his good name for the last 25 years.

“We would like to thank the coroner for this opportunity to do so again.”

Mr Whelan remembered how his son, who worked at British Nuclear Fuels, near Warrington, was nicknamed “Ronnie” - after his hero, the Liverpool player Ronnie Whelan.

And he explained how, on the day of the 1989 semi-final, he left two red roses at his girlfriend Joanne’s door on his way to the match.

Mr Whelan said: “He just left them outside as a surprise for her.

“That’s just one example of his good character.”

In another statement, Shirley Riley remembered her younger brother Roy Pemberton, who was 23 when he died at Hillsborough.

Standing in the witness box with her sister Gillian, she said: “Now we are left thinking about Roy and what he would have achieved - a successful career, a family and many more dreams.

“We will never know and we are getting older and he will not.

“Our parents were left devastated and never truly got over the loss.

“They longed to spoil their boy but it was taken from them.

“Gillian and I are only left with memories of our baby brother but we love him and he will always live on.”

Walter Smith, in a statement read by a lawyer, remembered his sister Paula Ann Smith, who was 26 when she died.

He said: “Paula was quiet and shy by nature and happiest in her bedroom at home.”

She said her hero was Kenny Dalglish and her bedroom was full of Liverpool FC memorabilia.

Mr Smith said his sister was extremely close to her mother.

He said: “My mother never got over Paula’s death. She was heartbroken, as was my father.

“I miss my baby sister Paula. We shared so many happy memories.”

The statements made in the court by the families are the first of dozens the jury of seven women and four men will hear over the coming weeks.

The process of presenting the so-called pen portraits is due to take until the end of the month, with the inquest not sitting during the week of the 25th anniversary of the catastrophic events.

On Wednesday jurors were told that none of the 96 victims should be blamed for their tragic deaths, which bereaved relatives welcomed as “music to our ears”.

Lord Justice Goldring has laid out key questions facing jurors in the fresh inquests into how the fans died, including how other supporters behaved.

Britain’s worst sporting disaster unfolded when hundreds of fans were crushed at the FA Cup semi-final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool on April 15, 1989.