This story has been reproduced from today's media. It does not necessarily represent the position of Liverpool Football Club.
THE VOICE OF THE ECHO
THE whole of Merseyside is still trying to make sense of one of the most astonishing days in the history of the great city of Liverpool after the Hillsborough Independent Panel report was revealed.
Was it a dream - or was it a nightmare?
In truth, it was both. Many families and survivors, having been let down on so many occasions over the last 23 years in their search for the truth, were "blown away" by the scale of yesterday's revelations.
And yet, while there was satisfaction that the Hillsborough Independent Panel managed to unearth so much evidence which confirmed so much of what campaigners had previously claimed, there was also pain - and plenty of it.
PAIN because of the sheer horror at the scale of the lies.
PAIN because of the sheer horror at the scale of the cover up.
PAIN because of the sheer horror at the scale of the incompetence of so many public officials.
Twenty-three years, four months and 28 days - it is to their eternal shame that the massed ranks of the Establishment blocked and obstructed the Hillsborough families, survivors and fellow campaigners for this long.
But their party is over.
After banging on the door for more than two dispiriting and soul-destroying decades, all those who simply wanted the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth have finally been allowed access to a hallowed room which has given them the power they have for so long craved: the power of knowledge.
If, as we heard in the lead-up to yesterday, the truth does have its own power, many organisations and individuals will today be shaking in their boots - and rightly so.
Truth has always been on the side of the Hillsborough campaigners - but now it's been made official.
And it is the families, survivors and all those who have fought for truth and justice who we must address - and applaud - first.
For while the utterly reprehensible invididuals within the Establishment have spent 23 years trying to bury the truth, these ordinary members of the public - thrown together by unspeakable tragedy and injustice - have acted in an extraordinary and exemplary way.
Their dignity, devotion, dedication and determination to uncover the facts - in memory of their loved ones, of their friends and fellow supporters - has been humbling.
Yesterday was a day of mixed emotions for them all. The report contained so much fresh information. It was information which could lead to a new inquest verdict and authority figures finally being held accountable - but it was information that was also heartbreaking.
It was heartbreaking for the families to learn that the lives of 41 of the 96 people who died could have been saved - if the emergency response had been a proper and professional one, as opposed to a catalogue of cock-ups.
It was heartbreaking for them to learn that there was a callous attempt to smear the reputations of the dead by carrying out police computer checks on those with a non-zero alcohol level.
It was heartbreaking that blood alcohol levels were tested on some survivors who attended hospital, as well (as we already knew) in all those who died.
On April 15, 1989 - and afterwards - Liverpool fans were effectively dismissed as worthless by people who apparently had no hesitation in launching a full-scale assault on their reputations for their own sickening, self-serving ends.
There were so many heartbreaking revelations and so many insults to the memory of the dead - and those fighting for the truth in their name - in the report.
But today, through all the heartbreak and tears, the families, survivors and everyone who refused to let the forces of darkness win, should feel proud - they have done themselves, their city and, most importantly, the 96 men, women and children who should never have been allowed to die at Hillsborough, proud.
At times, they have been castigated and mocked - by crass, unfeeling outsiders who had the gall to tell them to shut up, move on and accept what they had already been told.
But they overcame every obstacle and faced down every slight and setback, fuelled by the power of love - love for lost family members and friends and love for what many people in high places apparently view as an old-fashioned concept: justice.
And that we have finally got to this stage - the beginning of the end - is also, of course, down in no small part to the nine members of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, including the Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, who chaired it brilliantly.
Where others failed dismally, the panel succeeded in supreme style - furnishing Liverpool and the country with a report which demands attention, demands action and, for the panel, demands our utmost respect and thanks.
History, however, will judge many other bodies and individuals - those named and shamed in the report - very differently. The operational failure of the authorities on the day of the disaster was atrocious and inexcusable. Then to decide, coldly and clinically, to shift the blame onto the innocent supporters they were supposed to protect shows that some people will sink to any depths to save their own miserable skins - and jobs.
The commonplace rewriting of statements was disgraceful and deplorable enough, but trying to dig dirt on the dead in a sick bid to portray them as the villains of the piece? There really aren't any words to properly describe the low lifes who sanctioned such a warped activity.
The level of conspiracy would be derided as being outrageously far-fetched by even the most imaginative dramatist - but then this was the biggest cover-up in British legal history.
As for the future, it can only be when the families and survivors have taken stock of the near 400-page report that we can know the next step. It was their relentless campaigning that brought us this far and it must be left up to them, not legal advisers or politicians, or media, to decide where to go from here.
The Hillsborough Family Support Group has the high-powered backing of Michael Mansfield, QC and former solicitor general Lord Falconer. They are undoubtedly great men to have on your side in a legal battle, but we would politely urge them to listen carefully to what the families want - after all, they are the ones who have lived through every harrowing twist and turn these past 23 years and more.
The panel, it should be remembered, succeeded, in part, because it listened to the families and knew exactly what it was they were seeking from its work.
We have been given the truth and must now seek the justice to go with it, but the campaigners must be given time and space to first digest an extremely detailed, as well as devastating, report.
Only then will they be in a position to decide on what should be the first of the final chapters of the Hillsborough story. There can never be a happy ending - how could there be? - but the truth has now been secured. Justice must surely follow. God bless the 96 - your familes and many friends on Merseyside have done you proud.