“At last”. Two simple words spoken by Keighley businessman Trevor Hicks summed up the emotions of hundreds of relatives of the 96 football fans killed in the Hillsborough disaster who gathered in a packed courtroom yesterday for the start of the fresh inquests into their loved ones’ deaths.
Mr Hicks and his then-wife Jenni lost their daughters, Sarah, 19, and Vicki, 15, in the tragedy 25 years ago.
They were among the relatives who converged at a purpose-built courtroom in Birchwood Park, on the outskirts of Warrington, Cheshire, as a jury was selected for the hearing, which is expected to last up to a year.
Allan and Barbara Bland, of Keighley, whose son Tony, 22, was the last of the 96 to die after they secured a landmark court ruling four years after he was left in a persistent vegative state from crush injuries, did not attend due to their advanced age.
Speaking after the hearing was last night adjourned until today, Mr Hicks, a former chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said: “Sometimes 25 years seems like an awful long time ago, but sometimes it feels like only yesterday. “I was always hopeful of this day, as I retain a basic belief in British justice.
“It’s very difficult to imagine what we’ve gone through unless you’ve experienced it, but a lot of work has gone on behind closed doors over the last 25 years.
“Some of the new information will be very distressing, but it has to be done. It will take a level of steely resolve, but I have to do the right thing for Sarah and Vicki.”
“It’s been a long day, but it’s the first of many.
“Coming here, there’s trepidation, anticipation and almost excitement, although that’s not the right word, it’s a real mixed bag of emotions.
“At last, we’re getting on with it.”
Mr Hicks’s former wife Jenni, who is vice-chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said there had been “lots of tears” in the past few days, but she was ready for the hearing to begin.
“It's been a long time coming, I've had an emotional weekend,” she said.
A jury of 11, six men and five women, along with a pool of extras, was selected yesterday, and they were expected to be sworn in today when Lord Justice Goldring, a Court of Appeal judge who is acting as coroner, opens the case.
Sending jurors home overnight, he told them: “An enormous amount has been written and said about the Hillsborough disaster and there have been programmes on television and on the radio and there are vast amounts of material on the internet.
“There may be a great temptation for you to read articles which have been published or watch programmes which have taken place, or search for material about the disaster on internet or social networking sites.
“My direction is simple, I repeat it, you must not.
“It is vitally important for any jury that their deliberations and conclusions are based only on the evidence which they hear.”
The jurors, who were warned that the inquest could take up to 12 months, had already filled in questionnaires to decide their suitability to hear the case, and were asked to say if they supported Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest or Liverpool.
They were also given a list of witnesses to see if they knew any of them.
Jurors are expected to hear evidence on stadium safety, emergency planning, crowd management and the response of emergency services. The court will also be shown never-before-seen BBC footage recorded on the day.
After opening statements from the coroner, families will begin a month-long process of presenting background “pen portraits” of all the victims to the court.
The disaster, the worst in Britain’s sporting history, happened on April 15, 1989, during Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest, as thousands of fans were crushed on the stadium’s Leppings Lane terrace.
Verdicts of accidental death from the original inquest in March 1991 were quashed in December 2012, after the Hillsborough Independent Panel delivered its final report on the disaster earlier that year.
The report, published in September 2012, cleared Liverpool supporters of wrongdoing and found that 116 police statements were “substantially altered” in an attempt to blame fans for the disaster.