In my loft I have a box containing items that I’ve kept over the years about Hillsborough.
Within it lies a VHS videotape of the great Jimmy McGovern’s drama-documentary ‘Hillsborough.’ I recorded it because I couldn’t face watching it when first aired and I promised myself I would watch it when I felt ready. I’m slightly ashamed to say I have never watched it in its entirety. When I first heard about the ITV drama-documentary ‘Anne,’ I felt the same doubts and fears in my gut.
Like so many others, I still struggle to watch content about the disaster. You are always fearful of how something so sensitive and which means so much to so many will be portrayed. You wonder, how anyone can capture a mother’s love within the context of a national disaster and the gravest injustice our country has ever seen? You fear it won’t be able to deliver a true portrayal of the scale of the cover-up and injustice, that it won’t inform and educate a new generation unaware of Hillsborough and those still infected by the lies and smears of the establishment.
You wonder how the story of Anne Williams, truthfully told, could ever fail to galvanise the entire country to back various campaigns for a legacy from the disaster, including the Public Advocate Bill currently making its way through parliament led by Maria Eagle MP, a Hillsborough Law, and my own push for the disaster to become part of our national curriculum and be remembered every year on a dedicated ‘Hillsborough Day’.
It was against this backdrop of trepidation that I sat down last Sunday to watch the first episode of Anne with my 16-year-old son, the same age I was at Hillsborough and a year older than Anne’s son Kevin when he was unlawfully killed along with ninety-six fellow reds on that fateful day.
I was determined to watch how the brilliant wordsmith Kevin Sampson, the author of Hillsborough Voices, who interviewed Williams several times for his book, and the stellar cast including the superb Maxine Peake would tell the story of Anne, Kevin and Hillsborough.
My fears were unfounded. The series was a masterpiece. I think the outpouring of emotion we have witnessed since the first episode is a vindication of Kevin Sampson’s writing and the breathtaking portrayal of Anne Williams by Maxine Peake. Every fear I had personally about the production was unfounded and the series will be lifted up as an exemplar in years to come.
I cried during every episode; watching Anne and her family suffering, seeing people I’ve known for decades on the screen, suffering, was heartbreaking. Tears of sadness followed by tears of rage at the continuous betrayal of good people by an establishment who would not relent in trying to break the spirit of the families, survivors – indeed an entire city and class.
The footage of South Yorkshire Police Federation’s PC Paul Middup lying after the disaster, blaming the fans, was incredibly damning and difficult to watch, and the commentary of John Motson from the BBC showed how quickly the narrative of lies became embedded, aided and abetted by a media and political class willing to accept and indeed propagate the lies, with the exception of a very few honourable journalists and politicians.
It was emotional to see the now-demolished but legendary Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC) shop feature in Anne, with incredible campaigners such as Shelia Coleman and Peter Carney among those who brought comfort to people like my Dad and so many others as they fought to deal with what they had experienced in Leppings Lane on 15 April 1989.
One of the most damning segments in Anne is the depiction of the failure of Tony Blair’s 1997 Labour government to back the campaign for justice. The hope of the families when a Labour administration was elected was palpable and the footage of Trevor Hick’s statement ‘New Labour New Cover-up’ and the portrayal of the Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw relaying the establishment lackey Stuart Smith’s flawed denial of fresh inquests to the families was excruciating. It will never be forgotten and rightly so; it pains me to say that a Labour administration aided the cover-up.
The power of ‘Anne’ will hopefully lie in remodelling the public’s perception of the disaster. After being drip-fed the lies of South Yorkshire Police and their willing accomplices for decades, the perception of Hillsborough to many (which continues today) was a link to football hooliganism. This is despite the official clearing of Liverpool supporters of any wrongdoing by the Hillsborough Independent Panel report in 2012 and the fresh inquest findings in 2016.
A further example of this ongoing misinformation came in a recent report by Louise Casey on public disorder at the Euro 2021 football tournament. She outlined the issues at the Euros in her overview of crowd disorder and inexplicably placed the word Hillsborough within this context. Casey apologised following an outcry from Hillsborough families, survivors and well-informed members of the public, but the incident demonstrated once again the long-term damage done by the ongoing smearing of innocent men, women and children even 32 years after the disaster.
I hope that the magnificent production of Anne helps to end this lazy perception in the minds of many who will have been deeply moved by the simple human act of a mother’s love for her son. When Anne finds out from Debra Martin, the special constable, that Kevin asked for his mum after the 3.15pm cut-off point, who can fail to see that this could have been any mother’s son at that game? A 15-year-old boy, critically injured at a football match, asking for his mum, will hopefully resonate in the national consciousness as powerfully as the lies and smears constructed just minutes after the disaster on 15 April 1989 by cowards desperate to avoid the consequences of their own actions.
I hope that another element of the show’s legacy will be to gather momentum behind the campaign for a dedicated independent adviser to work on behalf of families bereaved in major disasters through Maria Eagle MP’s Public Advocate Bill and my own Real Truth Legacy Project, which is campaigning for education about Hillsborough and the subsequent cover-up to be included in the national curriculum as part of our history, so that we never forget the victims, we always remember the epic fight for truth and to ensure that we never forget what the establishment is capable of.
Hillsborough families and survivors were denied justice when prosecutions collapsed in 2021, meaning that no-one will be held accountable. The success of the Public Advocate Bill and The Real Truth Legacy Project can provide a legacy that might bring some small comfort to families and survivors and help to ensure that what happened to Anne Williams and the families of the ninety-seven can never happen to other families across this nation.
On the Kop at Anfield, the flag of Anne Williams is a picture of defiance – and the words ‘the Iron Lady’ are fitting for such a formidable campaigner whose life was changed forever on April 15, 1989. Now maybe we need another banner, with both Anne and Kevin on it, with the simple word: ‘Mum.’