Anne Williams is in the midst of two battles. As she edges closer to the end of one that has consumed her for the past 23 years of her life, the onset of the second may rob her of the experience of victory.
Despite being diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer earlier this year, Anne made it to the High Court last week as she listened to the accidental death verdicts for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough stadium disaster being quashed. It was a great leap in her quest for justice for her 15-year-old son Kevin and all those who died on 15 April 1989.
The emotional and physical demands of last week's historic announcement weighed heavily as she spoke to The Independent on Sunday yesterday from her brother Danny's home in Birkdale, Southport, where she now lives. Last week's events have yet to sink in as Anne and her family prepare for Christmas together.
"I tried not to build myself up because I've been knocked back so many times and kept thinking, even now, that someone would step in and stop it," she said. "But I couldn't have hoped for a better judgment. Everything seemed to go our way for the first time in 23 years. The nerves did get to me on Wednesday morning coming out of the hotel on the way to the High Court."
Three previous attempts to get Kevin's inquest verdict quashed had failed. New inquests will now be announced in the new year and, with a nod to her condition, she added: "I'm hoping they are going to be sooner rather than later."
It has crossed her mind over the years that justice might never arrive. The last time she appeared at the High Court was in 1993, with several other victims' families, for the judicial review which backed the coroner's findings at the original inquest. Anne left court utterly distraught. "We came out of there crying. I remembered that day last week and hoped we would come out smiling this time," she said.
Without the support of those such as the QCs Edward Fitzgerald and Alan Jones, forensic pathologists Ian West and Nathaniel Carey, and Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, Anne said she would never have reached the High Court. "They waived their fees for me and I am indebted to them for that."
Only one verdict will satisfy Anne: manslaughter. "The previous inquests were full of fraud, perverting the cause of justice, lying. These were criminal acts, and I hope those people responsible for the lies and cover-up feel the full force of the law."
The 61-year-old likens her feelings on hearing the findings of the original inquest to the day of the tragedy itself. "I felt like I'd just come back from Hillsborough to identify Kevin. All the counselling I'd had since the day itself just went out of the window. There are people I can never forgive for the lies that were told then."
She deliberately kept her investigations from her two remaining children – Michael, 20 months older than Kevin, and Sara, who was 10 at the time, and who later helped her mother with her research.
"I was frightened about how they would react but I'm so proud of how they both dealt with it," said Anne who recently swapped the home she had made in Chester for Merseyside to be closer to her three grandchildren. Michael, 41, has a four-year-old daughter, Grace, and lives in nearby Ainsdale, and Sara, now 33, has two children: Finlay, four, and a 12-year-old daughter, Lena, and they live in Formby.
"The grandchildren have brought so much to all our lives," Anne says. "We never used to enjoy Christmas after Kevin died. But when Lena was born, the happiness returned. It's funny how life changes things."
The framed picture of Kevin by her bed is her favourite image of her son and the one that graces the cover of her book, When You Walk through the Storm, detailing her campaign for justice. "He's wearing the same sweatshirt he went to the match in, that he died in. I don't need other pictures. My brain is like a video camera: when people talk about him, I can see him there, laughing. No one can take away those memories."
Describing herself now as "very poorly", Anne keeps Kevin's horn of life around her neck as time ticks away until the new inquests.
"It has been a long time coming. For the victims' families, hopefully life will be a lot easier. I got quite emotional the other day when someone said to me how proud Kevin would be of me and I thought 'yes, he would'. I could see his face beaming."
Long road to justice
15 April 1989 96 fans are killed during a crush at the start of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough in Sheffield.
January 1990 Taylor report blames the deaths on police losing control.
September 1990 The Director of Public Prosecutions concludes there is insufficient evidence to justify proceedings against police or others.
November 1990 A coroner returns verdicts of accidental death in all cases.
November 1993 A judicial review into the inquests backs the coroner's handling of the case.
February 1998 Lord Justice Stuart Smith says there is no new evidence to warrant fresh inquests.
September 2012 The Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded that up to 41 of the 96 might have been saved had they received prompt medical treatment.
19 December 2012 A new inquest is granted in the High Court.