MARGARET SIMEY, one of the great Merseyside figures of the last 100 years, died yesterday aged 98.

Tributes poured in last night for the Glasgow-born social reformer who shot to national prominence following the Toxteth riots of 1981.

Mrs Simey - she hated the Lady title she was entitled to after Prime Minister Harold Wilson made her husband Tom a life peer - passed away at Broadgreen Hospital.

She had been in hospital since June 1. Until then she had continued to live alone in her Regency home in Hope Street, where she had lived since 1944.

Her husband died 40 years ago. Her only son Iliff, 60, visited Mrs Simey from his North Wales home twice a week, but with typical independence she asked him to cut it back to just once.

Last night he said: "This is a blessed release for my mother to be honest. She was in hospital for almost two months which is not what she would have wanted.

"But she was so strong, she just wouldn't let go.

"I began to think she was hanging on to come to her own funeral because she thought I wasn't competent enough to organise it!

"The nursing staff at both hospitals were brilliant and I think my mother would have been very proud of the NHS."

FROM a privileged background, Margaret Simey was educated at St Paul's public school in London where she sat in class with Churchill's daughter.

She arrived in Liverpool in 1924, aged 18, when her father became principal of the College of Commerce in Tithebarn Street.

It was the start of a lifelong love affair with the city and particularly its working class people.

"The spirit of the place is unique and I have never wanted to live anywhere else," she said last year.

It was her strong advocacy of the under-privileged which brought her into conflict with the likes of Michael Heseltine, Margaret Thatcher and, most famously, the then chief constable, Sir Kenneth Oxford.

A Labour stalwart of Merseyside County Council and the city council for 40 years, Mrs Simey was chair of the Police Authority during the Toxteth riots.

She famously gave Heseltine, the new Minister for Merseyside, a dressing down for failing to listen "to the people" and her clashes with Kenneth Oxford became the stuff of legend.

It was only in 1986, at the age of 80, that she finally stepped down from the Police Authority and her Granby ward seat.

But she remained active and her last book about how Liverpool University took up social sciences was published in 2003.

She became the first female graduate in social science from Liverpool University in 1928.

She rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest female names in Liverpool history, helping Eleanor Rathbone to become an MP and fighting for housing improvements.

Decades later she would tell Michael Heseltine Liverpool needed a bathroom in every house not "a garden centre", a reference to the International Garden Festival site.

BUT it was the formidable Bessie Braddock, the social reform activist and Labour MP, who influenced her most.

"Bessie taught me you said what you thought and that I shouldn't look over my shoulder to see if I was pleasing people. That was a revelation to me," she said.

In her twilight years, she became somewhat frustrated with the women's movement, saying equal pay was important "but equally important is how to be a wife and mother."

Iliff said: "I think she felt very strongly that modern women had not capitalised on what their predecessors had fought for." Last year Mrs Simey was offered the Freedom of the City of Liverpool, but turned it down. "I was brought up to believe every human being is of equal worth," she said.

"If I accepted this, people would say: 'Look at our Margaret pretending to be a lady' and I'm not having that. I'm not superior to anyone else." Her son is determined Mrs Simey's funeral will not be a maudlin affair, and will be shared with the people of Liverpool.

He said: "There will be a cremation, but that will be just a technicality.

"But in mid-September we are going to have a celebration of my mother's life in Liverpool.

"It will be on the Mersey ferry which she fought to save and which she used to take me on as a boy. We will head towards Waterloo where my grandfather lived when they arrived here.

"We will scatter her ashes in the Mersey and pass a microphone round so people can say a few words, particularly those from Toxteth.

"But I want it to be fun with lots of risque stories. I have asked Beryl Bainbridge, a great friend of my mother's, to be in charge and I am sure she will rise to the occasion."

FORMBY-BORN author Ms Bainbridge last night recalled : "Margaret Simey, aged 80, said in a television programme that 'the best thing that could happen for Liverpool would be for the government to leave it alone'."

"It is a pity there are not more like her."

Liverpool's Labour group leader, Cllr Joe Anderson, said: "I always remember she said to me, 'never let power change your life, but use power to change other peoples' lives'."

Current Merseyside Chief Constable Norman Bettison, of whom Mrs Simey was a strong supporter, said: "She made me very welcome upon my arrival in Merseyside and gave me a fascinating briefing on the social history of Liverpool 8.

"Certainly she will be remembered by many in the police for the years she spent as chair of the Police Authority, where she established herself as a force to be reckoned with.

"Her intellect and tenacity, but also her kindness, shaped her relationship with my predecessors. Indeed, she and they faced some of the most challenging periods in Merseyside Police's history.

"But most of all she will be remembered as a formidable activist, who fought for the rights of individuals and communities

"She gave more than she took from Liverpool."

Cllr Bill Weightman, current chair of Merseyside Police Authority, said: "To me, Margaret will be remembered as a formidable and courageous Police Authority chair, a bold and determined woman, who showed no fear in fighting for what was right for the community.

"In the aftermath of the Toxteth riots in 1981, she stood up for the community, put her head above the parapet, asked difficult questions of the then Chief Constable, probed for the truth, and fought to make things better.

"That's what police authorities are for. But Margaret did it with such enviable energy and aplomb; she's an inspiration to us all."

Liverpool Council leader Mike Storey said: "I always thought of her as an intellectual Bessie Braddock."She was an absolutely dedicated, hardworking councillor, who fought regular battles with the then Chief Constable on principles I think she was right about."

And Mrs Simey herself just wanted to be one of the people. As she recalled last year: "I went to speak to a group of schoolgirls. One later wrote about how she had talked to her father about Mrs Simey.

"She said her dad had replied: 'She's one of us'. I regard that as the peak of my achievement."