JURY selection has begun in the fresh inquests into the deaths of the 96 football fans who were killed in the Hillsborough disaster.
Potential jurors were brought into the modern courtroom on the outskirts of Warrington, Cheshire, and warned that the long-awaited hearing may take up to a year.
The room was packed with the families of those who died, journalists and a raft of lawyers, and proceedings were also shown in an annex in the building as well as in a private room for relatives in Liverpool.
Earlier emotional relatives said the much-fought-for hearing had been “a long time coming” as they arrived for the start of the inquest.
Vice-chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group Jenni Hicks said there had been “lots of tears” in the past few days, but she was ready for the hearing to begin.
She said: “It’s been a long time coming. I’ve had an emotional weekend.”
Charlotte Hennessy, who lost her father James Robert Hennessy in the disaster when she was six years old, said: “It’s finally here. I don’t know if excited is the right word to use, but finally we’re here and it’s going to happen.
“I’m really, really nervous. It’s been a long, long fight.
“Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end. I was a bit of a emotional wreck this weekend, I’ve not slept a wink. But this is the beginning now, hopefully it can be put right.”
A pool of 150 potential jurors had already filled in questionnaires to assess their suitability to hear the inquest, and today were also asked whether they support Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest or Liverpool.
Laughter broke out as one of the possible jurors declared that they were an Everton fan.
Coroner Lord Justice Goldring said: “Each of you has filled out a questionnaire which I have. I shall only ask questions arising from it where that is appropriate. I want to add two things. First the case may well take 12 months, in other words longer than the nine months which was foreshadowed on the questionnaire.
“Second if your name is called and you are a supporter of Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest or Liverpool I shall ask you to indicate.”
Most of the day is expected to be taken up with jury selection for the hearing, with a jury of 11 plus 10 reserves being chosen.
There will then be opening statements from the coroner and the families later in the week, with background “pen portraits’’ of all the victims being presented to the court over the next month.
Britain’s worst sporting disaster happened on April 15 1989 during Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest as thousands of fans were crushed on the ground’s Leppings Lane terrace.
Verdicts of accidental death from the original Hillsborough inquest in March 1991 were quashed in December 2012, after the Hillsborough Independent Panel delivered its final report on the disaster earlier that year.
Potential jurors were given a list of witnesses to go through to see if they know any of them.
They were told that they must not research the Hillsborough disaster or speak to anyone about the case.
Lord Justice Goldring said: “It is absolutely fundamental that you must put out of your minds anything you may have heard or read about Hillsborough. Do not do any research into Hillsborough, whether on the internet or in any other way.
“Do not discuss the case with anyone. Do not say anything about the case on Facebook or Twitter or any such site.”
A jury is expected to be sworn in tomorrow.