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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Mourners applaud brave Cumbria floods victim PC Bill Barker

Crowds lining the street of Egremont burst into spontaneous applause as PC Bill Barker was carried to his final resting place.

PC Barker had died a hero - saving others from the raging flood that wreaked havoc across Cumbria.

But more than that, he was a husband, a father, a friend - and a much-loved colleague of police officers throughout the county.
Today they came to say their goodbyes to the man who gave his life for others. 

Hundreds crammed into St Mary and St Michael Church in the town’s Main Street - a week after PC Barker lost his life when the Northside Bridge in Workington collapsed.

He left a wife, Hazel, and four children - Emma, seven, Daniel, 13, Melissa, 15, and 16-year-old Simon.

About 50 police officers lined the entrance to the churchyard before, during and after the service.

Even more ordinary west Cumbrians lined the streets outside, standing behind barriers erected for the occasion, to pay their respects to one of their own.

People had started arriving for the funeral of the married father-of-four, who lived in Egremont, up to two hours before.

Those arriving included all of Cumbria police’s senior force chiefs - Chief Constable Craig Mackey, Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde and Assistant Chief Constables Michelle Skeer and Jerry Graham - and Ray Cole, chairman of the county’s police authority.

A former Whitehaven police officer who left for Canada, Scott McCallum, returned from Calgary to pay his respects.

Retired west Cumbria police chiefs Steve Turnbull and Ron Smith were among those attending.

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcombe, and Copeland MP Jamie Reed also paid their respects.

At 12.45pm the 10-man guard of honour stood to attention and silence descended on the churchyard.

Five minutes later, the pallbearers - six close friends from the roads police division in which PC Barker worked - stood to attention.

Four police motorcycle riders entered the churchyard ahead of the hearse.

This bore PC Barker’s coffin, which was draped in the Union flag, his police hat placed on top.

A wreath spelling out his police collar number - 642 - was clearly visible.

Family cars followed with two more police motorcycles then entering the churchyard.

A wreath spelling the word “dad” was brought from the hearse.

Some other wreaths were from family members while others included one bearing the tribute “From all the firearms ops unit, you lit up our lives Bill. God bless”.

Another was from the governor and staff at HM Prison Haverigg.

The pallbearers, wearing white ceremonial gloves, then carried the coffin through the guard of honour to the church.

The service was relayed on loudspeakers to those outside.

Sombre-faced police colleagues stood listening quietly.

The Rev Richard Lee, team rector at Egremont, took the service.

Speaking shortly before the funeral, he said the words “community, family, giving and leader” painted a picture he had formed of Pc Barker in the last week.

He added: “He was a man of principle and very likeable.”

Mr Lee said Pc Barker’s family had in the last week been “resilient, honest, supported - and very thoughtful of other people’s grief”.

Speaking about the effects of Pc Barker’s death on the people of Egremont, he said: “The loss of such a big, strong, nice man has come as a shock.”

A eulogy was read during the service by Superintendent Gary Slater, Pc Barker’s colleague and friend.

He said: “I first met Constable 642 William Barker 19 years ago and for me and my colleagues here today it has been a privilege to serve alongside him throughout his career in Cumbria Constabulary.

“When Billy died, a week ago, he was doing the job that was his passion. He loved being a police officer and was dedicated to his role within the roads policing unit.

“His service stretched over 25 years and I would like to take some time to reflect on that time and celebrate with you his achievements during his career.

“To learn about the character of Bill you need to look no further than his application to join the police, submitted in July 1983.

“One referee, the housemaster from his old school, wrote ‘Bill is a rough diamond, good natured, committed to what he is responsible for but lacks polish.

"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.

“Bill was appointed and sworn in on January 3 1984.

“After his initial training he 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 that he was posted to the roads policing unit, or traffic as it was called then.

“The last 18 years have seen Bill develop 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 Hazel and the children scouring the shops in Whitehaven to find a suitable photo album in which they would carefully present mementoes 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 has done much to enhance the reputation of Cumbria Constabulary.

“During the past week his family have received numerous letters from parents, partners and families of bereaved who commented, and I quote from one, ‘that warm, caring man who did so much for us when we were in so much pain’.

“It is ironic that his beloved family have now had to experience the very procedures that Bill helped develop and perfect in his desire to support others.

“Over the past week Cumbria has faced some of the most severe weather conditions ever and Bill was among the hundreds of officers and staff dedicated to rescuing local people and ensuring the safety of our communities.

“He was directing motorists safely off Northside Bridge, saving lives, when the tragic incident occurred.

“Our thoughts are with Hazel, his four children and his family and friends at this difficult time.

“Finally, I would like to return to those principles that I referred to before.

“Billy Barker was a simple man who lived by simple principles - family is everything, friendship is a precious gift, problems are issues to be resolved, with a laugh and a giggle if possible, and duty is an honour to fulfil.

“We have a lot to learn from our friend and colleague of whom we are so very proud.”

Detective Constable Jim Rooney, one of PC Barker’s closest friends, also read a eulogy.

He said: “I have had the honour of knowing Billy for more than six years and he was one of my closest friends.

“So where do I start about the big lad? I’ll start where he would have wanted to - with his family.

“The centre of Bill’s world was Hazel, Simon, Melissa, Daniel, Emma and the menagerie of animals that makes the Barker household the most unique house I’ve ever had the pleasure to go into.

“As a former family liaison officer myself, I can say without fear of contradiction that Billy was the best FLO in the whole organisation.

“Bill’s passion for the role was unstoppable.

“Bill joined the police to make a difference and in his FLO role he made a difference to so many families that were going through their own personal tragedies.

“Bill was the FLO that FLOs looked up to and I can say that there were none of us that could come close to what he did for the families that he worked for.

“Bill was passionate about motorcycling, being a member of the Motorcycle Action Group.

“Inside the police, however, he was the enforcement officer - always fair, always firm, always laughing and always smiling.”
DC Rooney said he never tired of hearing PC Barker’s laugh.

“It was infectious and warmed the coldest of moods.

“Tragically, on Friday last week, Billy’s laugh was silenced forever.”

The congregation sang the hymns I Watch The Sunrise Lighting The Sky and The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended. 

As the service finished, the song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python - the comedians PC Barker was a big fan of - was played to the congregation and the crowds outside.

Pallbearers carried the coffin out to the hearse.

The spontaneous round of applause burst out as the hearse made its way on to Main Street before making its way to Egremont Cemetery.

In a moving guard of honour over 60 motorcyclists were joined by police officers to line the approach to Egremont Cemetery.

They stood in silence as the funeral procession passed. PC Bill Barker’s motorbike was also parked at the entrance of the cemetery.

The bikers were made up of PC Barker’s friends from the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) and a fund-raising group based in the North East, of which he was also a member, as well as other fellow local motorcyclists.

Brian Hodgson, of Egremont, a member of MAG and friend of PC Barker said he had done a lot of work for their group.

“We have lost a good friend and colleague,” he said.

Peter Thwaites, Cumbria representative of the Boundary 500 Motorcycle Group, together with 15 other members from the North East, travelled over to pay their respects.

“Bill was a member of the group and he was a marvellous man,” he said.

“Last year he travelled to Middlesbrough to take part in a 500-mile sponsored ride with us and this Christmas he was due to travel again to raise money.

“That is the extent of the dedication of this man who would travel these distances to help people out.”

Some of PC Barker’s closest friends and colleagues - officers from the Cumbria Roads Policing Unit - also took part in the guard of honour at the cemetery.

The pall bearers - also friends and colleagues from the unit - saluted as the hearse and procession passed by.

Have your say

I read about Bill's heroic act, which sadly was his last. As a Dad, a Cumbrian and a human being, I hope that I can live up to his memory.

Paul

Posted by Paul Pennington-Wilson on 28 November 2009 at 22:51

Reading about this mans love for his family and all he achieved and the lives he touched is very sad. i did not know this wonderful man but feel we have been robbed of a good guy. respect r.i.p

Posted by Alan day on 27 November 2009 at 22:09

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