UK Politics

Tony Benn's funeral takes place in Westminster

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Media captionFormer Foreign Secretary Jack Straw paid tribute to Mr Benn's "extraordinary devotion" to his family

Politicians and well-wishers gathered at Westminster earlier to bid an emotional farewell to Tony Benn.

A large crowd holding trade union and anti-war banners lined the route of his funeral cortege.

There were tears and sustained applause as the procession arrived at St Margaret's Church, yards from the House of Commons.

Labour leader Ed Miliband was among the mourners from across the political spectrum.

Silence fell as Big Ben chimed 11:00, and Mr Benn's coffin - topped with red roses - was borne into the church by his sons and grandsons to the sound of the choir broadcast on speakers to those outside the private ceremony.

Mr Benn's younger brother David and three of his four children paid tribute to the former cabinet minister, who died earlier this month aged 88, during what was described as a traditional service.

His eldest son, Stephen, told the congregation: "The very last words he heard on this earth were the four of us telling him that we loved him. And that matters to us."

He said Mr Benn had wanted his epitaph to read "He encouraged us," adding: "Well, Dad, you did encourage us and you did inspire us. And your encouragement and your inspiration, both for us and for others, will never end."

Ed Miliband, a family friend, gave a reading from John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

Commenting afterwards, he said: "It was an amazing funeral because it conveyed so much about him, his decency, his principle, his integrity, his slightly wicked sense of humour - I think most of all though the love that he showed for his family and the inspiration he gave to many many people."

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw paid tribute to Mr Benn's "extraordinary devotion" to his family, who were "his anchor".

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Image copyright PA
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Image caption Former National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill was among the mourners

He described Mr Benn as the "conscience of the Labour movement", and hailed his "enormous personal courage" in the face of media "vilification".

But, said Mr Straw, he was also "very funny", bringing light relief "even in the worst moments when the Labour Party was tearing itself apart".

Among those seen shedding a tear was Mr Benn's long-time Labour colleague and former Foreign Secretary Dame Margaret Beckett.

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Figures including Conservative grandee Lord Heseltine and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams joined Mr Benn's friends and supporters on the left, including George Galloway, Dennis Skinner and Ken Livingstone, were at the service.

There was also a rare public appearance from former miners' leader Arthur Scargill, one of Mr Benn's closest friends and political allies.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow read from First Corinthians 13 and the congregation sang Jerusalem.

International socialist anthem The Red Flag - another tune traditionally heard at the end of Labour Party conferences - played as Mr Benn's coffin was carried aloft from the church, past the banners of trade unions, rainbow flags of peace and mourners with tears in their eyes.

Mr Benn's body lay in rest before the funeral service in the Palace of Westminster's Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.

He was only the second politician to be granted the honour after Baroness Thatcher.

The service took place in St Margaret's, which is known as "the parish church of the House of Commons", and was conducted by Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend John Hall.

The funeral was followed by a private family cremation. A memorial meeting will be held later in the year.

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