Six years after the worst tragedy in soccer history, families are still fighting for justice after an alleged whitewash at the inquest of the 95 victims. But their battle is riven by conflict and recrimination over the handling of the disaster fund. Joh...
"We weren't going to let him go to the game originally because we thought it was too far away. But then my husband said to me: `All the poor little bugger ever does is stay at home and study', so we changed our minds and told him he could go, provided he took the police escort train. The last time I saw him alive he was waving goodbye, shouting: `No worries Mum. 3-0'."

Anne Williams's son, Kevin, was one of the 95 Liverpool fans who travelled to Hillsborough on 15 April 1989 to see the FA Cup semi final against Nottingham Forest and never came home. He was just short of his 15th birthday.

Six years on, as another weekend of FA Cup semi-finals approaches, Hillsborough remains unfinished business for the families of the dead. There have been suicide attempts, long-term relationships have broken up and families have fallen out with one another as they continue their struggle for justice after an inquest which they regard as a legal whitewash of police responsibility for the disaster.

For a while after the tragedy, the families were wholly united in grief and formed a family support group, initially as a place where they could grieve together. Later it became a pressure group to lobby for their interests.

Now with their legal options for prosecuting their case against the police handling of the incident closing down, tensions have erupted about the best way to proceed.

"With hindsight, I should have seen it coming because some people treated us with a lack of sensitivity from the outset," says Trevor Hicks, whose two daughters Sarah, 19, and Victoria, 15, were killed on the terraces. "I was standing some 15 yards away from the girls, and I could tell that something was going drastically wrong. I could see the panic and smell the fear. I shouted to the police for help, but they did nothing and continued to behave as if it was a pitch invasion."

The hostile treatment continued in the aftermath. ``Even though I had been sucking vomit out of Vicky's mouth in an attempt to resuscitate her while she was laid out on the pitch, when I asked to see the two girls bodies later that night, I was told by the police inspector in charge: `They're nothing to do with you any more. They're the property of the South Yorkshire coroner.' " Nearly all the families received a similar response.

Even so, it wasn't until the main inquest got under way in November 1990, that the families realised that things were going badly awry. The coroner, Dr Popper, announced that no evidence of events after 3.15pm - only nine minutes after the first crowd surge - would be heard, because, in the pathologist's opinion, all the victims were by then either dead or irreversibly brain-damaged.

This precluded any examination of the police's handling of the incident. Donna Carlile was soon to discover just how arbitrary this decision was. Despite reassurances to the contrary, she had always suspected that her brother had suffered greatly before his death because she had seen the bloodstains between his fingers where he had tried to stem the flow of blood from a gash in his chin. ``Shortly before Paul's case was to be heard, I was taken downstairs and told that a man had tried to save him. He had felt Paul trying to climb up his leg and had grabbed his arm, and, when he lost his grip, had pulled his hair in an effort to get him upright. I knew then that Paul had suffered and that he hadn't been dead by 3.15. When I went back upstairs to the inquest, none of the evidence came out, and the coroner declared that, as with the 94 others, Paul hadn't known what was happening to him and had lost consciousness within seconds and had died within minutes thereafter of traumatic asphyxia."

The sight of Donna Carlile on television protesting about the coroner's verdict awoke Anne Williams to what was going on. "For two years I had been like a zombie. I couldn't stop sobbing, I was on tranquillisers, I was drinking too much at weekends, and I hadn't paid much attention to what was happening. During Kevin's mini-inquest, an officer from the West Midlands Police force, who were investigating the tragedy, told me a police officer had retracted an original statement and indicated that Kevin had been alive till 3.55, and that he had opened his eyes and said `Mum' moments before dying. I was devastated. When I got the reports from the main inquest, I found the officer had changed her statement over night."

The period since the inquest reported in March 1991 has been extremely difficult for the families. The frustration of their legal setbacks has meant that, at times, their anger has been turned on one another.

Trevor Hicks has been the object of a lot of that criticism. As he was an articulate company director living near London, Trevor became the centre of attention for the media. His experience of the press made him an obvious choice as chairman of the family support group. As a result, Hicks has made painful choices and become the symbol of unpopular decisions. Some families accuse him of acting unilaterally.

Many families were behind the campaign for a judicial review to have the inquest reopened. "We felt no matter how slim a chance of success we might have, we had a duty to fight on," say Anne and Donna. "And so we went to the trustees of the disaster fund and the family support group for financial assistance. We were very disappointed to get turned down, except for a small travel allowance. We were refused on the basis that some faceless trustees had decided that none of the £14m that had been so generously given by the public would be used to fund families' legal costs in their fight for justice.''

Trevor Hicks recalls some intense arguments. "We've had closed meetings where people have let their emotions get the better of them and those concerning the judicial review were as heated as any. But I stand by the decision not to help fund it. The question wasn't about whether we had been shafted, because there was never any doubt about that, but whether we had been shafted within the framework of the law. The judicial review could only determine whether due process had taken place, and it was my feeling that it had and that the review would fail. I did not think the group ought to throw good money after bad. In any case, all major decisions went to a vote."

About other matters, Trevor Hicks is less certain in rejecting the criticism, for instance that he ignored the families when choosing the barristers for the inquest. "I think the family support group may have got it wrong over our choice of barristers because they failed to challenge on important issues at the inquest, but we were inexperienced in the law and went with the people we were advised to. Besides, there's no knowing whether anyone else would have done any better. I've also been accused of putting publicity before my daughters.

"Maybe it would have been better if I had got angry on TV and hit someone, to show how much I care, rather than being seen to talk reasonably with police representatives that the families didn't altogether trust. I've felt like it at times. People confuse the Trevor they see in public with Trevor the grieving father and they aren't the same person. Only last week I found one of Sarah's shoes in the back of a cupboard and I was wrecked for the rest of the day."

The discontent continues. Hicks's explanations still fail to satisfy some families: some have said that Trevor is happy with a verdict of accidental death because it means he can collect his eldest daughter's insurance money. He angrily dismisses this, saying that his daughters' affairs are far from settled, and that money isn't the issue.

Such criticisms hurt, but Hicks tries not to let them get to him too much, because, for all the factionalism that may have emerged, it is clear there is still a great deal more that unites the Hillsborough families than divides them. Nothing less than a new inquest where all the evidence can be heard will satisfy the families continuing the fight. Following the refusal of the judicial review in November 1993, they know they are running out of legal options. But they will carry on the battle regardless.

On a sunny spring afternoon in 1989, 95 men, women, boys and girls were forced to lie down and die; six years on their families are refusing to do likewise.

They are all driven by a sense of injustice, and their tears that still fall easily, tell of a grieving process prolonged by the fight. "People always assume it's for the compensation, but it's not," says Anne Williams. "Most of us have either spent what modest amount we've been given on legal fees or have given it away as it felt like blood money. We carry on because we have to know the truth, however bad, about what happened. Only then will we be able to lay Hillsborough to rest and get on with our lives."