THERE was a standing ovation as the 96 men, women and children who lost their lives at Hillsborough were posthumously awarded Freedom of Wirral.

The honour was unanimously backed by councillors during a special meeting at the start of an emotionally-charged ceremony at Wallasey Town Hall on Friday night.

Attending were families of the Liverpool fans killed during their club's match against Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's ground on April 15, 1989.

Among the councillors addressing them was Eastham Liberal Democrat Dave Mitchell who, in a short speech, said: "To use the words of Rodgers & Hammerstein, you'll never walk alone!"

Afterwards, the town hall's riverside gardens overlooking the Mersey were dedicated by the mayor, Cllr Ann McLachlan on behalf of the people of Wirral as a permanent memorial to the 96.

As well as commemorating those who died, the gardens will also serve as a lasting tribute to the courage, dignity and tenacity of the families and their campaign for justice for their loved ones.

The choir of St Joseph's Primary School in Birkenhead sing Gerry & The Pacemakers' classic You'll never walk alone and Sir Paul McCartney's We all stand together. Wirral Pipe Band provided stirring music for the occasion.

Created with the support of The Hillsborough Family Support Group the gardens will be a place of remembrance and reflection.

Prior to the ceremony, the families took a ferry across the Mersey, throwing a wreath and 96 flowers onto the river. 

They were then brought to the town hall by bus.

Margaret Aspinall CBE, chairman of The Hillsborough Family Support Group told the Globe: "It's a really special moment; 28 years since that terrible day and yet the city is still doing something to remember the 96.

"What's so wonderful about it is the tribute that we have had since the very beginning.

"The guys on the ferry worked so hard, Merseytravel laid on coaches for us. We got off the ferry and there was a wonderful choir singing to the families; that was just so emotive.

"There was also a wreath thrown onto the Mersey, along with 96 roses; what a tribute.

"I feel so honoured, privileged and humbled to be part of this city."

Sue Roberts, from Liscard, is secretary of the group and lost her 24-year-old brother Graham Roberts during the disaster in 1989.

She told the Globe: "It was a day of mixed emotions and the trip across the Mersey was so special.

"The fine detail that Merseytravel and Wirral Council have gone to make his day so special is unbeliveable.

"They worked so hard and even the sun shone down for us.

"It's a real honour for us."

Twelve of those who died were from Wirral and Ellesmere Port.

They were Peter Burkett, Raymond Chapman, Anthony Kelly, James Delaney, Christopher Edwards, Arthur Horrocks, Kevin Traynor, Chris Traynor, James Hennessy, Graham Roberts, Dave Thomas and Thomas "Steve" Fox.

Paying tribute to the families council leader Phil Davies said during the ceremony: "The people here tonight represent the very best of what makes Merseyside such a special place.

"To take on the might of the establishment - in the face of sustained, constant attack and opposition - and deliver the justice which was demanded for so long is nothing short of incredible.

"As the father of two football-mad sons, I owe you a huge debt of gratitude, as does everyone in the entire Liverpool city region.

"On behalf of them, on behalf of my colleagues on Wirral Council and on behalf of football fans throughout the UK, I say thank you.

"The events of April 15, 1989 will never be forgotten.

"What happened that day - and what you have achieved since - changed this country.

"Your grace, dignity and unwavering demand for justice have ensured everybody knows the truth.

"Thank you."

Addressing the families, Mayor Ann McLachlan said afterwards: "As we bestow our civic honour upon the 96, it is important we never forget what happened on that terrible day in 1989.

"The legacy of the 96 - driven by the heroic work of the families - ticks every box.

"You will never know how much we admire you, or how proud we are of all you achieved."

Master of ceremonies for the night was Brookside and Royle Family actress Sue Johnston.

Sue has long supported the campaign for justice and attended the Hillsborough inquests to show her support.

She said: "The gardens settings, on the banks of the River Mersey and looking directly over to Anfield in the distance, provides a fitting place for people to remember the 96 and they will provide a lasting reminder for generations to come.

"As well as commemorating those lost lost, they will also serve as a lasting tribute to the courage, dignity and tenacity of their families and their long campaign for justice for their loved ones."