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PSW: Hillsborough mother tells how support of a social worker helped her to carry on

Margaret Aspinall (right) with Hillsborough Family Support Group member John Traynor and BASW England manager Maris Stratulis
Margaret Aspinall (right) with Hillsborough Family Support Group member John Traynor and BASW England manager Maris Stratulis

A leading Hillsborough justice campaigner has paid tribute to the social worker who supported her after her son died in the football stadium tragedy, describing her as a “beautiful person”.

Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, also urged the mainstream media to report on the positive stories within social work and not just focus on the bad news.

Margaret’s son James was one of 96 fans killed in the worst football stadium disaster in English history. He had just turned 18. Invited to speak at a BASW England committee meeting, she said of the social worker who supported her in the aftermath: “I would love to meet her now and tell her how much she helped me. When everyone else had gone she got me through a difficult time.”

Two years ago, an inquest ruled the victims of Hillsborough had been unlawfully killed following years of fighting by campaigners for the truth.

As the 30th anniversary of Hillsborough approaches next April, Margaret said she wanted to pay tribute to the little heard role played by social workers in supporting families whose lives were left shattered by the tragedy.

“I was in a really bad place. There was a knock at the door and there was a woman who introduced herself as a social worker.

“I had the wrong impression of social workers. I said I don’t want you in my home, I have lost my eldest boy and I want to be left in peace. I was appalling to this person.

“She went away saying I will come back in a couple of days’ time.”

Grief-stricken and influenced by negative stories in the press, Margaret told the social worker not to return. But she persisted, gradually forging a relationship that would help Margaret in the bleakest times, providing the right emotional support when it was most needed.

Margaret said: “I didn’t drive at the time and I just wanted to go to the cemetery to see James because I felt he was lonely. The social worker said she would drive me. She kept coming back and kept taking me when I wanted.”

Margaret recalled how on one ocassion the social worker helped her find release from the intense grief she was experiencing.

“I couldn’t talk to my children because they were suffering. I didn’t want to speak to my mum because she had lost a grandchild. So you just bottle it up. When the social worker came months later she took me to the park.

“We sat on a bench and she said ‘how are you feeling now?’ I said, ‘I know this is awful, I just want to throw things and scream’. She said, ‘scream then’ and I did. I screamed and threw a plant pot. It allowed me to get the anger out.”

Margaret’s social worker was also there to help her get through the first Christmas after losing James.

“She came round on Christmas Eve and said, ‘Margaret why aren’t the decorations up?’ I said ‘I want no decorations and no presents’. I felt I had nothing to celebrate.”

The social worker took her aside from the rest of the family. “She said, ‘Margaret, your children have lost enough, they have lost a brother. Don’t let them lose out on Christmas.' She ended up putting the Christmas tree up for me. She did all the decorations and took me out shopping to get the children their presents.”

In her darkest moments, Margaret said it was often the support of the social worker that saw her through.

“Many times I wanted to commit suicide. It was like being an elastic band. James was pulling me one way because I wanted to be with him. The other children were pulling me the other way. You are on this rollercoaster.

“The social worker got me off the rollercoaster. She said to me, ‘James will be looking down on you and he will want you to look after his brothers and sisters’.”

Margaret said there is a world of difference between the way social workers are often portrayed in the media and her personal experience.

“To me social workers do a great job. But when you put the news on who gets the blame? Social workers get all the bad press and that is so wrong. They don’t get the good press about what they do. I have nothing but praise for them.”