Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017: The grandmother who fought for justice for Hillsborough

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Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
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Margaret Aspinall was 41 years old when her 18-year-old son James was killed in the Hillsborough disaster. As chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, she has fought for almost 30 years to overturn the accidental death verdict. In 2016, it was found that the 96 people who died were unlawfully killed. The first prosecutions were announced this year.

“It’s been a tremendous journey. We used to get told, years ago, we’ll never get these verdicts. We have proven to people it can happen if everybody stays together and fights. Never give up on any injustice that you know was wrong. You’ve got Grenfell going on at the moment. Hopefully we’ve made it easier for others, for the future. So this can never, ever, happen again. I don’t think anyone has had to fight as long and as hard as we have done.

We’ve lost a lot of families along the way, which is so sad. It’s obviously taken its toll. Sometimes along that journey I have wanted to give up.

But if you give up, you’re not only giving up on your child, you’re giving up on the other 95, the survivors and fans that day. Because they all stood accused. You couldn’t give up, that’s what kept you going. And the support from ordinary people has been tremendous. And they give you the strength and the courage to carry on.” 

Margaret Aspinall talks to the crowds during a Hillsborough Memorial Vigil in Liverpool.

“My advice to others fighting for justice is don’t listen to anybody, listen to your own instincts. If your own instincts say this was morally wrong, never walk away no matter what they offer you.

I don’t see myself as a heroine. The families and people who supported us are. The survivors are the heroes and heroines. I feel humbled and proud that people think about me, but to me the heroism belongs to everybody. The city and our football club have been amazing. I’ll never forget when Everton chairman Bill Kenwright said they didn’t realise they had the Scouse mums to deal with. I’m a grandmother now, but when something so tragic happens, it makes you strong.

It’s important there is accountability now for what happened. Their human right was to live. To be safe to watch the game. Yet to come home in coffins, all of those people. For no reason. It was so avoidable.

People ask me, what has Hillsborough brought to you? It’s obvious what it’s done to me. I’ll never be able to get my son back. But it’s also shown me how kind, how generous and how supportive people are.”

To celebrate the best in people, Stylist photographed and interviewed 10 heroic women – just a few of the many who served to inspire us all in 2017. To see the rest of our Women of the Year 2017, click here.

Photography: Mark Harrison.