He was just a little boy that went to watch a football match and never came home. There is nothing that I can be told now that can make the agony any worse. I just want to know the truth - Anne Williams.
This week saw the 31st anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster where South Yorkshire Police unlawfully killed 96 Liverpool fans; men, women, children. There was an almost ghostly feel to the anniversary as a consequence of the Covid-19 lock down. The silence was eerie. But for Anne Williams, from the time her 15 year old son Kevin was crushed to death in Sheffield, silence as to who was responsible was not something she was willing to consider a virtue. Unrelentingly, she pursued truth and justice for her little boy who went to a match and never came home. Had match commander David Duckenfield possessed even a smidgen of her forensic mind, or a modicum of her integrity, the disaster could have been averted and the cover up rendered null and void.
Anne Williams died in 2013. She had always wanted to publish a follow up book to When You Walk Through The Storm but did not live long enough to pull it off it. Her daughter Sara stepped into the breach and, with the assistance of Dan Kay, effectively did it for her.
Despite the 31 years that have elapsed since the tragedy at Hillsborough, for fans of Liverpool FC like myself there remains something joltingly raw about that day's events. A sigh emits when I set out to read a book on the subject. There was no respite with this one, the mind incapable of proving resilient enough to ward off the spreading trepidation caused by the certainty that the journey will not be a pleasant one.
In chronological terms I should have read Anne's own book first. That I failed to do so is that Sara's was more easily accessibly on Kindle, whereas Anne's was in hardcopy and by the time it arrived I had already finished With Hope In Her Heart. It was my intention to read Anne's this week, but it is in Dublin and due to the lockdown I am unable to access it. Which is doubly unfortunate because the last book I read was the self serving work by Norman Bettison, a member of South Yorkshire police and practitioner of the dark arts. The smell from its pages still lingers in my nostrils and will only be banished by reading a more authentic account
Sara looked up to her older brother "Our Kev", and became a "massive Liverpool supporter" because of his lead. Nothing else mattered to Kevin once the Reds took to the field: the world stopped for the ninety or so minutes that it took the match to run its course. As games were not frequently televised back then, Kev would often listen to them on the radio, much as I did in a H Block cell on the republican wings in Long Kesh. It was there that I was listening to the fateful game where Kevin was to have his short life ended.
I was in a different part of Long Kesh 12 years earlier when Liverpool became Champions of Europe for the first time, when Kevin was a toddler. Later he sketched that particular trophy for his GCSE. It was one of the last pieces of schoolwork Kevin ever did, dying nine days after completing the assignment. The school set up the Kevin Williams Cup in his honour, an annual event which saw teachers and pupils turn out against each other in a show of unity for a young life hideously crushed.
He worked hard at school and had ambitions to go to university, perhaps become a lawyer. For his application in the classroom his mum rewarded him with permission to attend the FA Cup semi final against Nottingham Forest in Sheffield with his mates - his first ever game away from home. Imagine the exhilaration as he set out for Hillsborough on a sunny Saturday morning. Later the same evening dark news started to filter across the Pennines to a worried Anne, and by the time she made it to the Legion to buy cigarettes to calm her nerves the death toll had reached 73. "Our Kev's there, Sara," is what her daughter remembers her saying.
Sara was 9 when her older sibling, Kevin, died. Their mother was 38 and, unable to face the enormity of her loss, sank into a deep despair. For a long time Anne could not find the will to haul herself out of bed. But all that was to change and rather than Anne staying beneath the duvet she put lethargy to bed. The three words South Yorkshire Police became like a red flag to a bull for her.
From Formby rather than Liverpool proper, Anne was the victim of domestic violence in her first marriage which led to a divorce on the grounds of cruelty in 1975. Her second marriage could not withstand the strain of Hillsborough and a divorce ensued 20 years after the first decree nisi. Her third relationship proved even worse and she ended up seeking refuge in a women's group for battered wives. Her life was anything but easy or privileged.
A year after the disaster, Anne was told by a member of West Midlands Police that a few minutes short of 1600 on the day, Kevin opened his eyes and uttered one word "Mum" to a woman police constable who was holding him in her arms.
Sheila Coleman, a university researcher, joined her in the fight and would later be described by Anne as "my greatest ally in my search for justice." It was Sheila who explained to Anne the devastating implication of the timing of Kevin's death. "From the minute she found out he had called for her, that was it. She was a woman on a mission." She sought out everyone and everything that could aid her in her search for truth and justice. She was pitted against a force as immovable as the Pennines.
The establishment was determined to suppress any challenge to its timeline. Another police officer would go on to confirm that Kevin had a pulse as he lay on the pitch long after the official but inaccurate 15.15 moment of death had passed. Both officers came under police pressure to revise their statements because their evidence punched a serious hole in the official narrative: the coroner Stefan Popper had ruled that all the victims had expired by 3:15, meaning that none could have been saved after that point. Kevin Williams became the case that could unlock everything.
Without the type of money required to mount huge and exhaustive legal battles, Anne persevered and with friends like Sheila Coleman alongside her, persuaded people they regarded as members of the establishment to bat for them rather than the state and its police.
There were tensions within the bereaved and not all families took kindly to the manner in which Anne conducted her search for truth, feeling that perhaps she placed too much emphasis on her own son. But there seems little else a mother could do and hers was a tide that could raise all boats. If, as Anne came to believe, Kevin could have been saved by even a rudimentary emergency plan in place on the day, many more could also have been saved - a possible 41.
Anne Williams died from bowel cancer just three days after she summoned up the strength to attend an Anfield memorial service for her son and the 95 others who perished. She had also survived long enough to reach Truth Day when the Hillsborough Panel delivered its devastating verdict, excoriating the establishment and exonerating the fans.
For some, up until that point Anne had been dismissed as "barmy". So let down by officialdom had she been that she had little confidence in the Hillsborough Truth panel to deliver. When it did it changed the narrative forever.
The Stefan Popper inquest verdict was overturned and a fresh one ordered, which ultimately found that the fans had been unlawfully killed. While Anne did not live to see the second inquest, much of the credit for undermining the original verdict of accidental death was down to her. She had moved mountains to ensure that the truth was not contained to Merseyside by the Pennines and the dark force that lay on the other side of them. The fans greatly appreciated her and four days after her death chanted "there is only one Anne Williams" at the home game against Chelsea. Anne had been infuriated by the slurring of those fans with accusations that they had been robbing the dead when they alone had walked through the storm to save lives "while too many supposedly trained professionals stood around doing nothing."
Sara Williams has put together a deeply moving book about her mother and brother. She described her post-Hillsborough life as being one of living with two separate people - there was the devoted mum and then there was the determined and gritty Hillsborough campaigner, equipped with an iron will, so focused and capable that people came to regard her as an expert on both law and pathology.
This injects into the book a penumbra that Anne Williams, because of her singlemindedness, might at times have made it difficult for others to keep up and relationships suffered as a consequence. One that did, with Sheila Colman, was eventually rekindled. And it was Sheila who summed up her legacy simply, concisely and accurately: "Historically, Anne will be seen as a mother who fought for her child."
Sara Williams, 2013, Anne Williams - With Hope in Her Heart. Publisher -Trinity Mirror Digital Media. ASIN: B00GCTF4FE.
⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre