Not many programmes can get away with a one-word titular introduction—Anne. I’d have had no idea of who it was referring unless I’d read the pre-publicity for the four-night drama starring Maxine Peake.
Anne Williams, an unremarkable woman from Liverpool who worked in a shop, and who died in 2013.
That might have been that. But if we throw in another word, Hillsborough, the unremarkable becomes remarkable. I’m old enough to remember the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989, both serial European Champions. Kenny Dalglish moved to Liverpool from Celtic for a £440 000 transfer fee. He was now the Liverpool manager. As a Celtic fan, I didn’t take much notice of the match or care who won. I didn’t know what happened. But imagined it was much the same as the Ibrox disaster of 1971. Media reports concentrated on the pageantry of Anfield covered in tops and scarves and token of remembrance for the 97 men, women and children killed and around 766 injured.
One victim was Kevin Williams, a few days short of his sixteenth birthday. He attended the match with his mate. Kevin died in pen 3, at Hillsborough. The official line was compression asphyxiation. After The Ibrox Disaster, Glasgow Lord Provost, Sir Donald Liddle wept at a press conference. He declared, ‘It is quite clear a number died of suffocation’. Anyone that has ever been to a big match knows the feeling of being lifted off their feet after their team score and being swept away down the terracing—a mass love in. But that turns to terror when barriers break, people stumble and fall, and there’s nowhere for fans to go and the bodies pile up.
At the end of the first episode, Anne Williams gets on a train and introduces herself at a meeting of The Hillsborough Support Group. Something just doesn’t add up. The official line was that Kevin had died instantly. Stefan Popper the coroner cajoled witnesses until they supported the narrative being sold to the public by South Yorkshire Police under Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield. Victim blaming.
A Director of Rangers adopted a similar approach and the club did not admit culpability. Spectators helped police carry victims onto the Ibrox pitch and pavilion. A general appeal went out for first aiders. Fifty-three bodies, still in their club’s colours, were laid out on the pitch.
Mist was falling in Govan and ambulances, police and fire engines were delayed by the crowd leaving the stadium, unaware of the tragedy. Eye-witness accounts such as eighteen-year-old, First-Aid assistant, Ian Holm told us he wasn’t even sure what happened and he was inside the stadium.
At Hillsborough there was panic and no coordinated response. The Miner’s Strike 1984-85 had given the police force a blank cheque in Yorkshire. They were dealing with the enemy, working-class men. Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield already knew the official line before any major event. It had worked before and drawn nothing but praise. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun (let’s not call it a newspaper) carried reports of looting and drunken brawling among Liverpool supporters. Let’s not forget a frail and senile acting Murdoch appearing before a Common’s Committee after the News of the World debacle. Then suddenly regaining his mojo in time to help the moron’s moron get elected. That’s the kind of leverage he had then and now. But long memory. Graham Sourness, the ex-Liverpool captain and Rangers manager, was ostracised in Liverpool for taking the Sun’s money for a story a few years later.
Mary, my partner, watched the first episode with me. She was crying. I guess, like many others, we’ve been there before with unexpected deaths that don’t make sense or the news.
‘But he was already dead,’ she said. ‘What more could they have done?’
I tried to explain about the official delays to ambulances. The chaos of fans using pitch-side barriers to carry victims away. Impromptu, mouth-to-mouth and heart massage. And this is what Anne Williams heard. She was convinced her son cried out her name. A volunteer policewoman said he’d been alive. The coroner said he’d most likely been brain dead and that was highly unlikely. He imposed a 3.15 pm cut-off point, after which anyone on the pitch was presumed to be already dead.
‘What happened to my boy?’
An Observer report concluded if Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield and his compromised police force had behaved professionally, 40 victims might well be alive. In other words, Frank Williams, who was breathing, might well be alive.
What have we learned from Hillsborough? Nought. I look at the Grenfell tower fire. The way the official narrative switched when officials could no longer blame the victims, but instead focussed on those that had cheated and were trying to claim compensation money they weren’t due. Then those that were victims were allowed their day in court. When that was out of the way, the adults in the room could get on with the real business of cutting a deal. No one to blame. Nothing to see. Business as usual.