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Having children of her own helped Anne Williams’ daughter Sara understand her mum’s determination to carry on the fight for the truth

3 years ago

Having children of her own helped Anne Williams’ daughter Sara understand her mum’s determination to carry on the fight for the truth

Anne is the new ITV drama which tells the story of Hillsborough campaigner Anne Williams

Growing up as a child, Sara Williams couldn’t always understand her mum’s campaign and dogged determination to uncover the truth about the Hillsborough Disaster in which her brother, Kevin, had died.

“It was frustrating,” she says, “taking up more and more of her time. We were all grieving for Kevin, and I really didn’t understand it as a kid.

“I remember thinking, ‘why can’t she leave it and stop going on about Kevin’?”

But when she became a mother herself it became clear what had driven her mum, and why she couldn’t let it go: “When I had a child of my own I understood why she did what she did. I had always supported her. But when you have your own kids it makes you realise more.

“There is nothing stronger than a mother’s love.”

She adds: “My mother kept going because she knew she was right. There was more to be uncovered. She tracked down so many witnesses who told her what had really happened – there was no way she was going to give up.”

Sara Williams is speaking ahead of an ITV drama, Anne, about her mother’s refusal to accept the coroner’s original verdict of accidental death, and instead fight to uncover what had really happened on April 15, 1989, at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Maxine Peake plays Anne who, alongside other parents and relatives, stood defiant for more than 20 years and battled to prove that their loved ones had, in fact, been unlawfully killed at that football match.

Hillsborough memorial

Sara was only nine when her 15-year-old brother died, and she remembers him, and life, before that fateful day.

“Before Hillsborough we were just a happy-go-lucky family. The house was full of laughter. We had a really good childhood, and then Hillsborough happened,” she recalls.

“Kevin got a ticket for the semi-final without my parents knowing about it. I remember him telling them about it the night before. My dad wasn’t very happy and told him he couldn’t go, but Kevin had been studying so hard for his exams that my dad then backed down and said he could.”

It was on the Sunday after the tragedy that Sara was told by her grandma – Anne and husband Steve had travelled to Sheffield – that Kevin had died.

Sara says her mother had been just an ‘ordinary’ hard working mum, who had a part-time job in the local newsagent’s in Formby where the family lived: “You would never have thought she’d have gone on to do what she did with all of the campaigning,” she says. “She was so timid.

“I remember on the day she died, they showed some of her old interviews. I thought, ‘How shy is my mum on those?’

Maxine Peake playing Anne Williams in new drama ‘Anne’. Picture courtesy of ITV

“My mother’s campaigning began when she learned Kevin had still been alive in the gym and had opened his eyes and said the word ‘mum’ before he died at 4pm. That’s what started my mum’s campaign.

“At the time I wanted an end to it. We just missed our Kev. Most nights I could hear my mum crying, and it took its toll on my mum and dad’s marriage. My mum was still my mum, but she changed into a campaigner.

“My dad always supported her and told her she had to carry on, but it just got too much for them and their marriage.”

When the truth was finally revealed after the Hillsborough Independent Panel released its report in September 2012, Anne Williams gave an emotional speech on St George’s Plateau, and Sara says: “I was so proud when I saw mum speaking out. There was also relief, and we were in a bit of shock aswell, after all of those years and never really thinking that you would ever get the truth.”

Yet any joy was short-lived.

At the end of October Anne was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died the following April, just three days after attending the 24th Anfield Memorial Service. But not without leaving daughter Sara with a list of instructions about how she had to carry on with Kevin’s case.

Sara says: “After the first inquests had recorded verdicts of accidental death, my mum refused to pick up Kevin’s death certificate until the truth about his death was recognised.

“She didn’t live to see the later inquest verdicts in 2016. That’s when I was finally able to collect Kevin’s death certificate on my mum’s behalf. I felt so relieved seeing it, with the verdict of unlawful killing.”

It was the desire to show the full devastating effects of Hillsborough that led Sara to agree to the drama.

She says: “I wanted people to see how things had been covered up, and what Hillsborough had actually done to families. In our case it wasn’t just about losing Kevin – it had a wider impact and ended a marriage. The campaigning became like a full-time job to my mum.”

Sara is delighted with the drama and Maxine Peake’s portrayal of her inspirational mum: “Maxine has done an amazing job; they all have,” she says.

“It’s been done really well.”

Anne will air on ITV at 9pm on 2 January 2022


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