Hillsborough victim's mother Anne Williams:
'It's gone on so long now, I want more than "Sorry"'
When a verdict of ‘accidental death’ was returned on the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster, it heralded an ongoing battle for justice by their families. For nearly 20 years Anne Williams has fought in vain for a new inquest into the death of her son Kevin, but now her determination could pay off, with the case being accepted by the European Court of Human Rights
By Louette Harding
Last updated at 12:15 AM on 12th October 2008
Anne Williams’s computer is in her spare room: single bed in the corner; computer on a table behind the door. This is where a woman who left school with one CSE in typing has run a campaign that has lasted nearly 20 years.
After exhausting every avenue in this country, she has now taken her case to the European Court of Human Rights: Williams versus the United Kingdom.
How did she feel when she read those intimidating words on the official documents? She thinks for a moment. ‘I was proud of that,’ she says. ‘I’d got our Kevin into Europe.’
On 15 April 1989, Anne’s son Kevin, then 15, was one of 96 Liverpool football fans killed in the Hillsborough stadium disaster.
In the beginning, Anne was too numb to ask why he had died, though others seemed to have an opinion – most notoriously The Sun, which portrayed the fans as drunken hooligans.
Four months later, the facts emerged: Lord Justice Taylor, in his official inquiry report, established that the authorities were at fault for a catalogue of failings that caused 3,000 fans to be herded into pens behind the goal at the ground in Sheffield which should only have held 1,600. He exonerated the supporters, describing their efforts to help the stricken as ‘magnificent’.
But even then, Anne was beyond apportioning blame herself. She could not eat, surviving on Cup A Soups as her weight plummeted to five stone. She could not sleep. ‘I was frightened of dreaming about Kevin because it hurt so much.’
It was not until November 1990, when Anne was watching the television news reporting the main Hillsborough inquest – she hadn’t even seen a need to be there – that she began to ask questions. How on earth could the inquest verdict be accidental death?
That verdict effectively endorsed the authorities’ decision not to bring criminal proceedings against any of those in charge of the crowd’s safety. No officer was disciplined.
Local playwright Jimmy McGovern, who wrote a BAFTA-winning television drama on the tragedy, has said of Anne and other Liverpudlian families involved in similar campaigns, ‘The thing the Establishment forgot was that this is primarily mothers fighting for their sons. And having lost their sons they saw them attacked, which made them keep on fighting. If someone had put their hands up and said, “We’re really sorry, this is what happened,” they would have been happy. But nobody has, which is why these mothers will keep on fighting.’
‘I really identify with that statement ,’ Anne says. ‘But it’s gone on so long now, I want more than a sorry. It’s a big can of worms but it needs to be opened, which is why I’ve taken it to Europe.’
Kevin Williams was 15 when he died at Hillsborough. The official view is that he, like almost all the victims, was brain-dead by 3.15pm; witness evidence suggests he was alive until 4pm but received no medical help
From necessity, Anne, 57, has learned over the years how to manage her grief with clinical efficiency. ‘I’m not that broken, bereaved mother anymore,’ she says. ‘I’ve fought for Kevin and I’m stronger.’
She no longer lives on Merseyside, having moved to Chester after her marriage broke up, in the shockwave of grief, to a semi on an estate.
Anne has known precious few privileges in her life apart from maternal pride in her three children. Kevin was the middle one.
A photograph taken a few months before he died captures him in sweet, gangling adolescence. His then girlfriend describes him thus: ‘The thing about Kevin was his honesty. Kevin talked to me about his dad, Steve, and how he loved him.
'I thought then how honest he was. And clumsy. I was a bit hoity and not sure if I wanted to go out with him. Kevin didn’t mind making a fool of himself over it: “Come on, you know you want to go out with me, don’t mess me around.”
'He was really attractive but a lot of the girls were put off because he’d always have his shoelaces undone and his shirt hanging out. But he was funny and bright, and mature beyond his years.’
As we talk, Anne hands me another photo. It was taken at Hillsborough and shows the fans twisted against the barriers in the fatal pens. A blue sticker – number 51; the authorities labelled Kevin as number 51 of the bodies – indicates him in the crush.
This is a photo of Kevin being killed, his eyes blank as the life and mischief fade for ever. I struggle for composure, and Anne looks at me quizzically, for she has long since ceased to react as she sifts such material in the pursuit of justice.
‘I wouldn’t say it was an accident. It was lack of management. They lost it completely, and because they lost it our children died’
How do you do it, Anne? ‘You do it slowly. You can. You’re so desperate for the truth. Initially, I was a wreck. When I was given his autopsy report, I said, “I don’t want that.” I couldn’t mention his name without crying. I took it home and threw it on a pile of stuff I didn’t want to look at. But I kept it all. Then, quite a few years after, I started looking at it.
‘Kevin is different from Hillsborough. I detach him. Prozac helps you do that. We were on all sorts of tablets when it first happened. I realised what Prozac did when I saw Kevin’s photo and thought, “You’re dead. So what?”
'I went to the doctor’s, upset, and he said, “We’ve had to close off your mind and get you eating.” As time goes on, you learn to do this for yourself. I’ve had to talk about his injuries a few times. Sometimes I’ve come home and thought, “God, Kevin, it was you.” So there’s a difference in how I grieve and how I fight.’
Anne’s last memory of Kevin is of him standing in the newsagents where she worked, a grin plastered across his face as he set off to his first away match, an FA cup semi-final. He was taking the special train (with police presence). She thought he’d be safe.
She learned of trouble at the match on the radio later that Saturday afternoon. As the news reports detailed rising fatalities, Anne and Steve drove to Sheffield, leaving Michael, 17, and Sara, nine, in the care of Anne’s mother.
It was late when they arrived, joining other families who were gathered, waiting, near the stadium. Occasionally, the silence was broken by screams as someone identified a loved one.
Eventually, Anne and Steve took their turn viewing the board of Polaroid pictures of the dead. It was Steve who cried out as he spotted Kevin. Anne was silent. Even when she was taken to identify his body, she was silent.
But as a sense of injustice grew in her after the inquest, Anne found a purpose, tracking down witnesses who had helped Kevin yet had not been called to the inquest. She enlisted the help of this country’s most eminent forensic pathologists, the late Dr Iain West and Dr Nat Carey. (Her legal team waive or reduce their fees, but she still owes her solicitor money.)
She uncovered photographic evidence, however painful. She ignored the obstructions. ‘The more they put my back up, the more I put the phone down thinking, “You’re hiding stuff.” I mithered the South Yorkshire Police for months over one photograph they hadn’t sent me.’
Anne established from evidence and credible witnesses that Kevin was lifted from the pen at 3.28pm and laid on the pitch, alive but weak.
She took a statement from Special Constable Debra Martin, who was among those ferrying the dead and injured to the ground’s gym. Debra told Anne, ‘I stayed with Kevin. I felt for a pulse at the base of his neck and…there was a slight blip…I picked him up in my arms and he opened his eyes. I’ll never forget the look in that little boy’s eyes. And he just said, “Mum” and carried on looking for a few more seconds.’
Debra established that Kevin died around 4pm. The official view, however, is that all the victims were brain-dead by 3.15 from traumatic asphyxia which left their bodies blue and bloated. ‘But those markings weren’t on Kevin,’ Anne says.
Her pathologists argue that broken bones in Kevin’s neck caused his airways to swell; a simple rubber tube down his throat would have saved him. The life and the mischief could have been revived.
The police, however, held a fleet of ambulances outside the ground, so medical help did not reach the injured. What Anne has been fighting for ever since is ‘official recognition that Kevin died needlessly.
‘I wouldn’t say it was an accident. It was lack of management. They lost it completely, and because they lost it our children died. Why don’t they just hold their hands up? The lessons of Hillsborough can never be learned because they’ve never gone into what happened between 3.15 and 4.00.’
Along with other families, she has fought through every legal avenue in this country only to be told that ‘it is not in the interests of justice’ for the matter to be reopened. But the Human Rights Act gave her hope.
‘You keep getting knocked back and they think you’ll give up. And sometimes you want to. But there’s a lot of anger in me now. You get letters from survivors: “Please keep fighting.” They’re taking the blame because of what The Sun said and it’s screwing them up.’
At the time of writing, a verdict from Europe is overdue. Anne hopes for good news before the 20th anniversary next spring, and if she doesn’t get it she plans to appeal. She has also set up a help group, Hope for Hillsborough.
Anne says she lost her husband at Hillsborough as well as her son. It was Steve who said, ‘Shall we let him? All he does is study,’ when Kevin asked permission to go.
'At first I couldn't even remember what Kevin looked like, but that was my brain protecting me'
Did Steve feel guilty? ‘He still does. He’ll never get over it. Wouldn’t talk about it.
I got my divorce from my first husband [Kevin and Michael’s birth father] on the grounds of cruelty. He used to knock me around, then he started on Kevin.
'When I met Steve, Kevin was three but wasn’t talking. Steve taught him to speak. There was a special bond.’ Anne and Steve split up in 1995.
Michael, now a master joiner, has also internalised his grief. ‘The only time Michael broke – I had the radio on, so it must have been a couple of years after because I’d started putting the radio back on, and the Hollies’ "He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother" was on. I heard all this crying. It was Michael. He said, “Mum,
I carried him [he was a pall bearer at Kevin’s funeral]. I didn’t just lose my brother, I lost my best mate.” And he broke his heart.
‘Sara is like me. She’s a fighter. She didn’t go to Anfield this year [for the annual memorial service] because she’s expecting her second baby.
'Last year, when they sang "You’ll Never Walk Alone", she slumped over the chair. She does take it bad.’
Anne herself still suffers from insomnia and panic attacks. ‘At first I couldn’t
even remember what Kevin looked like, but that was my brain protecting me,’
‘Recently, I was talking on the phone to this guy who went to school with Kevin. He said, “Do you remember when we went on that school trip to Switzerland? I was dangling Kevin out of the window – did anyone ever tell you?”
'I was laughing. It was like a video camera in my head. This is what time must do. You never forget.
‘After my barrister had sent the submission to Europe, I realised there was more I wanted the judges to see. So I got these two bundles of material together, and sent a covering letter – I tried to phrase it like a barrister – and I got a letter back saying it had been accepted.
'As I explained in my letter, it’s been almost 20 years. I’m tired of fighting. Please look at it all. Please give us peace.’
For more information on Anne Williams’s campaign, or to make a donation,
visit hopeforhillsborough.org Email: email@example.com://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/you/article-1073369/Hillsborough-victims-mother-Anne-Williams-Its-gone-long-I-want-Sorry.html