Hillsborough’s youngest victim would have been “very proud” of his cousin, the Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard, the inquest into the disaster heard today.
Jon-Paul Gilhooley, aged just 10 when he died on the Leppings Lane terrace, was a relative of the footballing star, both coming from a big family in Huyton, near Liverpool, the jury at the Hillsborough Inquest were told.
In a statement from his mother, Jacqueline Gilhooley, read to the coroners court, she said: “His cousin is Steven Gerrard, captain of Liverpool and England football teams. Jon-Paul would have been very proud of Steven.”
Gerrard was aged eight when his cousin was killed along with 95 others at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground on April 15, 1989, as Liverpool FC’s FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest began.
Mrs Gilhooley said her son was the first child locally to be named after the then new Pope, John Paul II, and had his picture in the Catholic Pictorial.
He had a brother, Ronnie, four years older and named after their father, whom both the boys idolised.
The boy had 13 aunts and uncles and was a very sociable, loving and affectionate boy.
Mrs Gilhooley said in her statement, read by Jon-Paul’s cousins, Paula Kadiri and Donna Ridland, that her son regularly went to football matches in a group who went by minibus.
“I knew before 3.30pm that Jon-Paul was gone. I knew he was not coming back,” she added. “When I look back and remember how lucky I was to have Jon-Paul I have no regrets at all.
“You don’t appreciate what you have at all. I would go back and take those 10 years any time.
“Jon-Paul had his life taken away at just 10 years old.
“To the world Jon-Paul he was a football fan, but to us he was our world.
“Forever loved and missed.”
The inquest, held before a jury in Warrington, Cheshire, is hearing a succession of emotive “pen portraits” as each bereaved family give brief statements about their loved one lost in the tragedy.
Doctor Dorothy Griffiths read a statement about her brother, Vincent Fitzsimmons, aged 34 at the time of his death.
She said: “His death left an enormous chasm which can never be filled. For some of my family talking about Vincent is just too distressing.”
Dr Griffiths remembered their innocent 1950s childhood growing up in Liverpool with her little brother.
She remembered their parents talking about the new baby arriving, the midwife coming and propping her bike up outside the house as her mother went into labour.
“I can remember hearing a baby cry and my dad started to cry and saying, ’You have a little brother’.”
She had to grow up quickly, the Silver Cross pram filled now not with dolls but her little brother, full of “bubbling energy” who she had to look after, playing together and watching The Lone Ranger on TV with Vincent playing the hero.
He got into scrapes, one day being saved from drowning by a neighbour after going swimming in a local canal – which he was warned not to do.
Their dad told him to pack his things and say goodbye to mum – he was taking him to the police station and he might go to prison.
“It was tough love,” Dr Griffiths said – and the desk sergeant gave him a good telling off and said if he learnt how to swim he would not send him to jail.
Vincent became an altar boy at his local church and loved playing football.
The father-of-one worked in a plastics moulding factory near Wigan, but had returned to education and decided his future lay in London. He shared a love for the city with his sister.
The last time they met is “etched on my soul” Dr Griffiths said, as they spoke about their childhood and the future.
She added: “Most of all he was a wonderful, caring brother who I miss each and every day. If I was to be granted one wish it would be to have a few more minutes with him to tell him I love him.”
The jury next heard about the deaths of a father and son in the disaster.
Thomas Howard senior, was 39, his son, Thomas junior, 14.
“He’ll be all right, he’ll be with me,” Mr Howard told his wife, who was reluctant to let the youngster go to the game.
Mr Howard’s sister, Muriel Bellamy, said in a statement to the jury that her brother worked from the age of 14 as an errand boy before joining the Merchant Navy, travelling the world with the Blue Funnel Line, before meeting his wife Linda while on leave and settling down to start a family in Runcorn, Cheshire.
The father-of-three stood 6ft 3in and was known as a “gentle giant” to friends. His eldest son “pestered” him to take him to the game, his younger son and daughter stayed at home with their mother.
Mr Howard’s surviving son, Alan, speaking on behalf of himself and his sister, Gail, told the jury: “To be sat down and told by your mother one spring morning that your father and brother had gone to heaven when you were just 11 and eight years of age is something we found exceedingly difficult to come to terms with and still do to this day.”
Mrs Howard told the jury that her eldest son was on the cusp of turning into a man who wanted to be just like his father.
She waved him off from the kitchen window, adding: “I thought to myself ’Will he give me one last wave?’ I felt my heart would break if he didn’t. I don’t know why I felt that way but my Tommy, true to form, turned and gave me his final loving wave.
“I didn’t know that would be the last time I would see him.”