Tyne & Wear

Funeral for MH17 air disaster victim Liam Sweeney

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Media captionLiam Sweeney's father Barry says his son's funeral will be a celebration of his life

Hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral of MH17 air disaster victim Liam Sweeney in Newcastle.

The service at the city's St Mary's Cathedral was told the 28-year-old was a "family man and a gentle giant".

Family and friends of the Newcastle United supporter were joined by club manager Alan Pardew and team captain Fabricio Coloccini.

Mr Sweeney and fellow Newcastle fan John Alder, 63, were killed when the flight crashed in Ukraine on 17 July.

A Newcastle scarf and shirt was placed on his coffin as a sign of his commitment to the team.

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Media captionThe service at St Mary's Cathedral heard that 28-year-old Sweeney was a "family man and a gentle giant", as Andrew Hartley reports.
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Image caption Mr Sweeney's father Barry, centre, followed the coffin into the cathedral

The hour-long service was told Mr Sweeney loved reading, especially Lord Of The Rings and Animal Farm.

From the service

The pews of St Mary's Cathedral were packed for the funeral service - a celebration of Liam Sweeney's life as it said on the front of the order of service.

Some wore badges with a photo of Liam alongside Newcastle United's badge and others T-shirts bearing the message - RIP Sweeney and Alder.

It was Liam's passion for the football club and Geordie pride which ran through the service.

His coffin was brought in to the sounds of Local Hero. A poem read by friends Malcolm Pegg and Amanda-Jade Fowler told of how fervently he had followed his team.

We also heard of Liam's love of reading, music and The Simpsons.

Canon Robert Spence described him as "a gentle young boy who became a giant gentleman" and said he "deserves a place in Geordie mythology".

There were plenty of thoughts too for the family of John Alder, the fellow fan whose body has not yet been found.

Rachel Kerr, BBC News, at St Mary's Cathedral

Prayers were also said for the family of Mr Alder during the service.

A tearful rendition of a poem was read out in the cathedral, which included the words: "If the Toon were playing you were there, win or lose through bad and good, Newcastle United were in your blood."

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Image caption Floral tributes were placed outside the cathedral

Pictures inside the order of service showed Mr Sweeney when he was a boy in his Newcastle kit.

A collection of floral tributes were placed outside the catholic cathedral.

Representatives from Malaysian Airlines and supermarket chain Morrisons, where Mr Sweeney worked, also attended the service.

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Image caption The order of service showed Liam Sweeney in his younger years

Prince Charles wrote to the family to express his sympathy following the "unimaginable tragedy".

Mr Sweeney was a well-known Newcastle United fan and the cortege stopped outside St James' Park, before making its way to West Road Cemetery.

Mr Sweeney and Mr Alder had been travelling to watch the club on a pre-season tour of New Zealand.

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Image caption Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew and team captain Fabricio Coloccini were among the mourners

All 298 people on board the plane died.

Mr Sweeney's father said: "We're going to celebrate his life, not his death.

"Him and John Alder have become legends.

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Image caption Alan Pardew expressed the condolences of the club to Mr Sweeney's father Barry

"If the world can become a better place because of what happened to Liam and John that'll be great. People have got to stop fighting.

"I don't want to get involved in politics or religion, I just want to ensure the two lads didn't die in vain."

Image caption The funeral cortege stopped briefly outside St James' Park

The letter from Prince Charles to Mr Sweeney read: "My wife and I just wanted you to know how very much our hearts go out to you following the truly unimaginable tragedy of the loss of your son, Liam.

"All we can do is hold you in our most special thoughts and prayers at such an agonising time."

Image copyright Family handout
Image caption John Alder was well known for wearing a black suit and white shirt to Newcastle games

A minute's silence was observed by fans at St James' Park on Sunday as they paid tribute to Mr Sweeney and Mr Alder during United's opening home game of the Premier League season.

Fans then clapped throughout the 17th minute in reference to the plane's flight code.

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