Anne Williams: Hillsborough activist who fought to uncover the truth about the disaster


Anne Williams' son Kevin, 15 years old and a Liverpool fan, died on 15 April 1989 at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough football ground in the worst stadium disaster in British sports history. The eventual death toll was 96.

For the survivors and the families of the dead and injured, the effort to find the truth about precisely what happened that day has been made more difficult by one of the greatest injustices in British legal history.

Williams sought to prove that Kevin and others were still alive, and could have been saved, following the crush at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium. This quest had defined her life for the last 20 years. It is only since the release of documents last September, which Williams fought to be made public, that victims' families can see the true accounts of what happened and glimpse any prospect of justice.

In an interview in 2009 she spoke of the evidence that Kevin could have been saved. "An off-duty policeman at the match, a Mr Bruder, gave a statement that he gave Kevin the kiss of life at 3.37pm, as he still had a pulse. There had also been a WPC at the game who said she'd held Kevin in her arms when he died, and that it was a few minutes before 4pm. She gave Kevin heart massage, and his ribs were moving. He started breathing, and he still had colour. He opened his eyes and murmured the word 'Mum'. Then he died. How could Kevin have opened his eyes and called for me if he'd been brain dead for 40 minutes?"

Immediate treatment could have saved Kevin's life, she said. "A tracheotomy, or even the insertion of a rubber tube down the throat, would've reopened Kevin's airways. An ambulance attendant would have known how to perform a tracheotomy. But the police wouldn't let the ambulances on to the pitch."

Williams, whose weight dropped to five stone following the disaster, did not immediately become involved with any campaign but decided to act after two unsatisfactory inquests into Kevin's death. Her handwritten letter to the Attorney General, dated 1 January 1992, relates that the family had been too ill with grief to take part in any group, and ends poignantly, "Please Sir could you help us, to bring the truth of what happened at Hillsborough out into the open, so everyone can try and get on with their lives." Her determination to find that truth has been characterised by her courage and tenacity, continuing despite many setbacks.

Williams joined the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, eventually becoming its chairman. Sheila Coleman, the current chairman, said, "From somewhere deep inside this physically weak, grieving mother there emerged the strength to challenge the official verdict of how her son had died. She fought for every bit of evidence, from a single piece of paper we managed to secure from South Yorkshire Police many years ago through to much more substantial documents." Williams left the group in February 2006 after deciding to continue her son's legal case independently from the HJC and set up her own campaign named Hope For Hillsborough (For Justice).

Williams' second marriage to Steve, Kevin's stepfather, eventually broke up under the weight of 1989's terrible events. In 1999 she published When You Walk Through the Storm: The Hillsborough Disaster and One Mother's Quest for Justice, written with Sean Smith, which she described at the time as her way of trying to come to terms with Kevin's death: "I wrote this book because I did not want anyone to forget Kevin and I wanted people to know what extremes the system will go to, to cover up the truth about what happened to him."

Ten years later, at a memorial event to mark the 20th anniversary of the disaster, Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, felt the full force of anger from the 30,000-strong crowd who called out for "Justice". The eventual result was the formation of the Hillsborough Independent Panel and the release of more than 400,000 documents about the disaster.

The Hillsborough Panel's report, published last September, found that as many as 41 of the victims might not have died had they been given immediate emergency care. Williams, vindicated, said, "In the past, even though the evidence was strong, we were against the legal system. My solicitors told me that I would never win a new inquest because we were fighting the establishment. Each time I've called for a new inquest in the past, I've done it not expecting to get very far. This time, I can't see how it can be refused."

Williams' lawyer, Pete Weatherby QC, announced that complaints had been lodged with the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Director of Public Prosecutions. He said at the time, "We are formally asking the DPP and IPCC to transparently investigate a number of criminal allegations, including manslaughter, perverting the course of justice and misconduct in public office… The position is that the revelations are so shocking that the potential for prosecution goes a lot further than police officers getting their heads together and concocting stories."

When Williams announced the following month that she had terminal cancer, campaigners sought to bring forward the date of a new inquest, with an online petition gathering more than 100,000 signatures. Then, in December, and following an application from the Attorney General, the High Court quashed all 96 inquest verdicts. She responded with relief, saying, "It's been worth it. I was never going to give up… I know what happened to Kevin and I want them to put the record straight, call new witnesses and tell the jury what happened to him."

On Monday this week Williams used her remaining reserves of strength to attend the Hillsborough Memorial Service at Anfield. The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, told me, "The perseverance and dignity with which Mrs Williams pursued justice for the victims of Hillsborough and in particular, in relation to her son, will be long remembered and recognised. Whilst I am sorry that it has not been possible for the matter to be fully resolved before she died, I am pleased that Mrs Williams was assured that there will be a fresh inquest."

Marcus Williamson

Anne Williams, Hillsborough activist: born c. 1953; twice married (one son, one daughter, and one son deceased); died 18 April 2013.