Memorial Service - Saturday 15th September, 2012
Commemorating Bill Barker (G/SH 78-83)
A copy of the address given by Hazel Barker
"Bill was born, William Arthur Alastair Barker, on the 21st November 1964 at 4, Whitegate, Egremont, Cumbria; his road ahead was to prove difficult, often stony, but even way back then, Bill strove forward; taking determined steps, meeting each challenge head on…..some would call it ‘stubborn’, I would call it bold!
At only 6 weeks old he left England to join his parents in Kenya but at the tender age of 4, Bill returned to England where he lived with his grandparents and began his formal education at Orgill Infant School, Egremont and later Orgill Junior School. In September 1975 Bill passed the entrance exam after applying to be privately educated here at St. Bees’ All Boys Boarding School, completing his education in July 1983. In recent correspondence, which I’d like to share with you, Mr. Malcolm Thyne, the then Headmaster of the school said of Bill
“We still have a good memory of him and he was a very fine young man who was much respected by his contemporaries, his Housemaster in School House (the renowned David Marshall) and indeed by all the staff. He was a more than useful athlete and, as a strong and mobile prop forward, he was Captain of the 1st XV’s in his final year, an appointment of particular importance. Then he showed great leadership in the CCF (Combined Cadet Force) becoming a Colour Sergeant and winning both the Sword of Honour and The Hedley Award. I inevitably lost touch with Bill after he left the School but I have no doubt that he would have become an absolutely excellent Policeman. It is typical of him that he was courageously doing his duty and looking after the safety of others when he so tragically lost his life”
On completion of his formal education Bill applied to join Cumbria Police Constabulary in July 1983 and on January 3rd 1984 he was appointed and sworn in. One of the references given on Bill’s application was from Bill’s then Housemaster; the unforgettable Mr. David Marshall who said of Bill
“Bill is a rough diamond, good natured, committed to what he is responsible for but lacks polish! (Fairly accurate so far then….) He coached younger pupils in rugby, physically he is tough and he is prepared to stand up and be counted……He would make a most effective constable……Too right he would.”
Bill himself wrote: “I feel that I have the qualities that are needed for a successful career in the modern police force and I am under no illusion that a career in the police will be an easy one to carry out.”
He was wrong; it was a job that he made easy by the simple rules by which Bill not only lived his life but in the manner he conducted himself in his duties.
In that year a loaf of bread cost just 20p, petrol was a mere 38p a litre and 1st Class stamps were a snippet at just 17p. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the Coal Miners went on strike causing huge clashes between pickets and the law enforcement. However 1984 turned out to be a memorable year for a very different reason when on the 17th April WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot and fatally wounded outside the Libyan Embassy, St. James’ Square in London by terrorists. Two weeks after Yvonne’s death UK Film Director, Mr. Michael Winner created The Police Memorial Trust to honour British Police Officers who lost their lives during the execution of their duties. Memorials such as this can never compensate the families for their loss but, rightfully, recognises the bravery and commitment to duty officers who, when others run in the opposite direction from danger they step forward. When Michael, as he insists I call him, first contacted us back at the beginning of 2010, I was convinced it was a prank caller…..Michael Winner wouldn’t ring The Barker Family from the outback of Cumbria…..Would he? But….Yes…..as it turned out it was ‘THE’ Michael Winner….my expectations of him telling me to “Calm down dear…..it’s only a phone-call” never transpired…..but the AMAZING memorial to my darling Bill ‘did’ when on the 29th June earlier this year along with an unveiling of a memorial stone, Bill was also honoured by being posthumously awarded The Queen’s Police Medal for Gallantry by Her Majesty the Queen who Bill considered it an honour and a privilege to serve. That his sacrifice and bravery has been recognised in this way is extremely humbling….and yet… it is NOT so much HOW Bill died that made him A HERO…..But HOW HE LIVED!
Material things were never important to Bill only the true values in life….Devotion to his wife and children, Friendship, Loyalty and Commitment, privately his goal……to make a difference. This invariably showed in his loyalty to The Pride of Cumbria Air Ambulance, when he quietly and privately supported this vital service wherever possible. Bill passed his motorcycle test during the summer of 1980 whilst on holiday on the small island of Alderney with one of his best friends and fellow school peers, Dougal Southward, who Bill considered more as a brother than a friend, thus began his life-long passion for bikes. Dougal, please know how much you and your parents meant to Bill and how often you became the topic of conversations over the years.
Over the past 20 years Bill’s love of bikes led him to join the local Motorcycle Action Group where, once gain, Bill helped tirelessly to build bridges between the biking fraternity and local law enforcement and was involved in the Biksafe project a police led motorcycle project that is run by most forces throughout the UK. The main aim is to reduce the number of bikers being hurt on the roads; once again Bill’s commitment to making a difference is clear to see. Whatever area of Bill’s life we explore, commitment is the main theme, giving 110%, nothing more, nothing less, this is shown clearly in another of Bill’s hobbies, that of target shooting, a hobby shared between him and our boys, a special time where, once again Bill was committed to ensuring the utmost safety and respect for such a high risk area, and again Bill’s commitment was apparent in the support he gave to The Cumbrian Scout Movement, 1st Egremont Group of which Bill in his infant years, had been a former member…..the list is endless….This is Bill Barker.
After his initial training, Bill was posted to Whitehaven, and remained in West Cumbria throughout his service, policing the towns of Cleator Moor and Egremont until July 1991.
It was at this time he was posted to the Roads Policing Unit or Traffic as it was called then. The last 18 years of his career Bill developed into one of the Constabulary’s most experienced Roads Policing Officers. He devoted so much time and energy to his role as a Family Liaison Officer – a role which he made a Barker family affair. He would routinely have the children and I scouring the shops in Whitehaven to find a suitable photo album in which we would carefully present momentoes to support the grieving families in remembering their loved ones.
During his career, Bill received a number of awards in recognition of his dedication and I would like to make reference to just a few of those:
In August 1997, he received a Chief Constable’s Commendation in recognition of his courage and tenacity during a pursuit with a Landrover Discovery in the Keswick area. This vehicle had rammed the patrol car on two separate occasions, causing injury to Bill and his colleague, but which did not deter them from continuing the pursuit. This was the exciting part of the job that Billy relished, the blue light rush that any of you who have driven with Bill will know only too well.
In June 2008, Bill received a Chief Officer’s Certificate of Merit in recognition of professionalism and dedication in developing the role of Family Liaison Officer within the Roads Policing Unit. This award was as a consequence of numerous letters of appreciation from the families of those killed on the county’s roads, praising the support and compassion provided by the Family Liaison Officers during extremely difficult times. His resilience in dealing with human tragedies and the commitment to investigative practice did much to enhance the reputation of Cumbria Constabulary. This is Bill Barker.
The 19th November 2009 started off pretty much like any ‘normal’ day in the Barker household. Little did we know what the following hours had in store; after all, it was normal for us to have heavy rain in Cumbria! The first sign that this might be a little out of the ordinary was when Bill received a phone call from his partner Mark at around ten minutes past six that evening. Mark informed Bill that he was already in work (they weren’t due on duty until 8pm that night) I heard Bill laughingly say how he’d better bring his wellies and that, as ordered, he would park his car in the Courtroom car park……I last spoke to Bill later that evening at around 10.10pm. he was laughing and trying to lighten the mood as he and his colleagues worked to clear the ground floor of the flood-hit Workington police station…..I could clearly hear them singing ‘We’re Singing in the Rain’.
At that point, there were no alarm bells ringing. But all that night, for some reason, I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t worrying about the weather or about Bill, after all, Bill was indestructible. I just couldn’t sleep.
At 6.15am that morning I put the kettle on. I put a cup out for myself and one for Bill who could arrive home anytime from 6.30 onwards.
I heard a car door. I looked outside and there was a car in the road with someone, who I thought was Bill, standing on the drive.
Bill had told us that he’d had to leave the car at Workington Courts car park. I just thought he hadn’t been able to get the car back and somebody was bringing him home.
I went through into the kitchen, put the kettle on again and got out another cup for the unexpected guest. I waited for the garage door going up, when I didn’t hear it, I thought “the silly beggar has left his control [for the motorised garage door] in the car!”
I heard a knock at the front door. I was still convinced Bill had left his control. I went to the garage door and lifted it. I was waiting on Bill coming around the corner, but found it wasn’t him.
It was Sandra Thomas, our police family liaison officer and Inspector Denise Kelly; this was who I’d believed to be Bill due to the street lighting.
I clearly remember saying to Sandra, “just tell me he’s alright” but Sandra insisted that we go and sit down, that’s when Sandra had to break the unbelievable news that Bill was missing. The following few hours were a complete nightmare.
I was convinced he wouldn’t leave us. I kept saying “Bill wouldn’t do this to us”. Bill was indestructible. I couldn’t believe it.
Everything from then on was surreal. I was convinced he was going to be found on a riverbank clinging to something. I remember saying to Sandra, “how am I going to tell the kids?”
At 7am they were going to come down the stairs like any normal school morning. How was I meant to tell them their daddy was missing?
I completely tore my children’s world apart. As a mother, to do that to your own children when there is not a hair on their head that I would hurt deliberately was inconceivable and yet there I was completely destroying them.
I’m sure, like me, they thought, that daddy would be found and that everything would be ok. Every time a phone went, we’d get excited.
That seems ridiculous now, for every time that phone went, we were convinced that they had found him and he would have nothing more than hypothermia.
I keep going over and over it, trying to make sense of it. Nothing about that night and morning made sense….nothing was normal.
Mother Nature vented her anger on the close communities of Cumbria, tearing apart every ‘thing’ and every ‘one’ in her path. Destroying homes, obliterating businesses and totally devastating many, many people’s lives; trying her utmost to completely eradicate all the beauty that ‘is’ the exquisite County of Cumbria. Even the River Derwent became her ally and obeyed her outrageous commands therefore betraying the very people who had for many years considered her their friend. In her final act of defiance, Mother Nature, not content with all that she had so far achieved, then went on to take the ultimate….that being, the life of, PC642 Bill Barker who had stepped forward into the night….His only thought was to preserve the lives of those he served……an AMAZING husband and incredibly devoted Dad, a dedicated Police Officer and loyal public servant.
At around 10 minutes past 1 that afternoon a phone call came in to say that they had found a body several miles along the coastline on Allonby beach….once again….I had to tear my children’s lives apart!
Over the past two and a half years we have been privileged to hear some of the most wonderful memories that so many people have of Bill, one of which we recently shared when we accepted Bill’s Queen’s Bravery Medal, one that we often recall. Way back at the beginning of Bill’s career, back in the days when Officers paraded on at the beginning of each shift, Bill, as a fairly new recruit found himself on Inspector Eddie Trohear’s shift, a man revered by everyone, a man who commanded respect and rightly so. So it was one day after standing his shift down at the end of his parade, Inspector Trohear said the words that EVERYONE dreaded hearing “BARKER…..In my office NOW!” Bill, looking ashen and frantically I’m sure, trying to quickly scan through his head, as to what he had done wrong, followed his Inspector in to his office. “Now then Barker”, said Inspector Trohear “There’s only two things I have to say to you”……he continued “1. YOU are wearing MY Collar number AND 2. don’t you EVER bring that number in to disrepute!” Well as we ALL know, not only did Bill wear his collar number with the utmost of pride BUT, obeying that first command, Bill NEVER once brought PC642 into disrepute.
Finally, on behalf of Simon, Melissa, Daniel and Emma-Louise we would like to say a humbled and heartfelt thank you for inviting us here today. St. Bees School holds a VERY special place in our hearts; it meant so much more to Bill than just ‘a place of education’. You were indeed Bill’s family so much so that I feel a strange sense of ‘familiar’ and ‘coming home’. So many moments Bill shared with us about the School are part of our memories. Names such as Andy Haile, is so much more than just a name. Please know that your love, support and genuine compassion shown to us since we lost my darling husband, has been no less than AMAZING and should therefore be recognised and applauded.
THANK YOU ALL…..You have done Bill VERY proud and WE, as a family, SALUTE YOU!"