Hillsborough Mum’s Heartbreak: ‘All I Can Get My Son For His Birthday Is Flowers For His Grave’

As police chief David Duckenfield is cleared of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 people, bereaved mum Margaret Aspinall speaks of her grief.
Margaret Aspinall
Margaret Aspinall
Getty Images

Every single day, Margaret Aspinall speaks to her son James and wishes him a good morning. He is eternally in her thoughts.

March 13 this year should have been James’s 48th birthday.

“I should have been buying him aftershave or trainers or clothes,” she told HuffPost UK.

“But instead all I can get him is flowers for his grave, like I do every week.

“That makes me angry. I have been robbed of my son.”

James Aspinall, 18, was the eldest of five children to Margaret and Jimmy and one of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster on April 15, 1989.

The fatal crush due to overcrowding in the stands during the FA Cup semi-final clash between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was the worst stadium-related disaster in English sports history.

As chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, Margaret’s quest for justice has not only been on behalf of her own child, but for all the families who have spent 30 years fighting for the truth.

“I feel deep anger and that the trial was a mockery”

- Margaret Aspinall

Today’s verdict finding Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield not guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans in the 1989 football disaster has fuelled Margaret’s anger. He was not eligible to stand trial for a 96th death under laws at the time as the victim, Tony Bland, died more than a year and a day after the catastrophe.

She is disappointed on behalf of all the families.

David Duckenfield, who was match commander at the Hillsborough disaster
David Duckenfield, who was match commander at the Hillsborough disaster
Press Association

“I feel deep anger,” she told HuffPost UK. “There is no justice for 96 people dying. Ninety-six people died for going to watch a football game.

“Somebody has to be accountable for it. It is not about being vengeful or vindictive – it is about accountability for the good of the nation.”

Ninety-five women and children died in the fatal crush on the Leppings Lane terrace at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium nearly 30 years ago.

Bland died in 1993, meaning his death could not be included in the charges – something Margaret feels is a terrible shame, saying her “heart goes out to his family”.

Margaret is particularly furious at Duckenfield’s not guilty verdict after a jury at inquests into the deaths of the 96 ruled in April 2016 that they were unlawfully killed – after hearing two years of evidence.

Although the inquest jury was informed it was not a trial and that they could not find anyone guilty of a criminal offence, they were instructed to be sure that the breach that caused the deaths amounted to “gross negligence”.

Margaret said: “I feel the inquest was more of a trial than this was and there was a lot of evidence brought at the inquest which wasn’t heard at the trial.

“I felt it was condensed right down and my personal view is that the trial felt rushed.”

Margaret Aspinall
Margaret Aspinall
Getty Images

The grieving mum said she is angry that Duckenfield did not give evidence himself during the trial. The jury were told during the trial that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and would not be called to give evidence as his medical condition made it “undesirable”.

They heard he had been interviewed under caution in 2017 when, in a prepared statement, Duckenfield said the tragedy would live with him “forever” but that its impact on him “pales into insignificance” when compared to the grief of those who lost loved ones.

In his statement, Duckenfield also said he had sought medical support and in the early years, turned to drinking as a form of self-medication.

Margaret also criticised Duckenfield for sitting in the well of the court with his legal team instead of in the box.

“I feel he should have been in the box as he was on trial,” she said. “Why should he get preferential treatment?”

Regarding Duckenfield’s remarks about turning to drink, Margaret said: “How dare he? After everything the families have been through for 30 years and after everything they have lost, it is all about ‘poor Mr Duckenfield’.

“Who has David Duckenfield lost? We have lost our children and our loved ones.

“I think it is despicable the way he hunted for sympathy during the trial. It was another kick in the teeth for the families.”

Margaret says that, in her opinion, all the “poor man” details about Duckenfield showed a lack of empathy for the families.

She added: “Some families have died tormented because of what they lost due to the wrongs done on that day.”

James Aspinall
James Aspinall
PA Archive/PA Images

Margaret said James had only been to watch Liverpool play a handful of times and was truthfully more of a Chris de Burgh fan, although he loved supporting Liverpool. Hillsborough was his first ever away match, just weeks after he turned 18.

Margaret’s abiding memory is of the last thing she did for her eldest son just before he walked out of the door.

“I had bought James a gold chain for his 18th and just as he was leaving, he asked me to make sure it was on properly as he didn’t want to lose it at the game.” she said.

“That’s the last thing I did for James and then I just watched him go up the road.

“I didn’t find out he had died until 6am the following morning.”

Remembering the initial terrible turmoil of losing her son when she was 41, Margaret says the pain is still raw, and there are constant reminders.

Her husband, who was at the same match, is still haunted by the memories. James also left behind four younger siblings, then aged 15, nine, seven and six.

“My husband has never been to a football game since that game with James. Jimmy has followed Liverpool for 60-odd years and is Liverpool mad,” she said.

“Before that match, he used to go on a lot of games and had watched Liverpool go up from the second division.

“But since Hillsborough, he has never been to a football game. He said ‘football cost me too much.’”

“Someone is always missing. Someone so precious and so wonderful”

Margaret still has flashbacks every day. Like other Hillsborough families, she says the pain has a ripple effect and affects future generations too.

“My other children have had a hell of a time,” she said. “One of them said to me: ‘We didn’t only lose our brother that day, we lost the mum and dad that we knew.’

“My children have lived with Hillsborough for the last 30 years and we have not had peace. There’s always been something going on and we have known that James’ death was preventable.

“It is so sad that families and siblings have had to see their parents and loved ones going through this for the last 30 years.”

Margaret, who now has four grandchildren, says James’ siblings have lovely memories of their brother and talk about him a lot.

She added: “One of my granddaughters said to me: ‘I would have loved to have met my Uncle James.’ That made me feel sad, as I would have loved her to meet him too and it struck me that James would probably have had children of his own now if he was still alive.”

Margaret says she and her husband have been unable to enjoy anything wholeheartedly since losing James, as there is always a sense that “someone is missing”.

She recalled: “James said to his dad: ‘When I’m 21, you will be 50,’ and promised that they would have a double celebration to mark both their milestone birthdays which would happen the same week.

“But we lost James at 18 and when my husband turned 50, we could not celebrate it, as James wasn’t there.

“Someone is always missing. Someone so precious and so wonderful.”

The teenager is remembered by his family for his caring nature – and they cherish the final gifts he bought them, including a guitar for Jimmy, paid for with the pay packets from his new job.

And with James and the other Hillsborough victims always uppermost in her thoughts, Margaret says she didn’t want to waste any emotions on Duckenfield during the trial.

She explained: “When I saw David Duckenfield in court, I tried not to feel anything.

“To me, he is nothing. He was just a man accused of the unlawful killing of all those people.

“I looked at him and thought: ‘You are nothing to me.’ I would come out of court feeling anger sometimes. However, I would tell myself I didn’t want to waste any of my energy on that man.

“I just wanted to keep all my strength to carry on fighting for truth and justice.”

After today’s not guilty verdict, Margaret is undeterred and says she will continue fighting and campaigning.

“Hillsborough is bigger than the 96 now,” she says. “It is about getting to the truth and the legacy of justice.

“It has to be shown that the law in this country is fair and it is a level playing field. It is so important to have fairness.

“It is a credit to the families who were thrown together through terrible circumstances and have stayed so strong and steadfast through all of this. The last 30 years have been very difficult.”

Margaret admits she doesn’t know what the verdict will do to her in the long-term.

She added: “Only the Hillsborough families of the 96 know how terrible everything we have been through is.

“David Duckenfield has no idea what we have been through as he has not lived in our shoes.

“How can we move forward with our lives when the past is always with us?”

And she wants to thank everyone who has supported the families through their ordeal.

“I am talking about the ordinary people who have done so much to help the families and have believed in them for all these years,” she said.

“The city of Liverpool has been wonderful and so have Liverpool and Everton football clubs and people from all over the world who have supported us.

“Without that support, we might have collapsed.”


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