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Wednesday, 03 September 2014

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Losing a leg will be nothing compared to losing my husband, says Hazel Barker

Hello darling, it’s Michael Winner here, came a distinctive plummy voice at the other end of the phone.

Hazel Barker photo
Hazel Barker

He may not have used his catchphrase: “Calm down dear, it’s only a commercial” but it was unmistakably him.

What on earth, wondered Hazel Barker, was a famous film director doing ringing her at home? 

Whatever he wanted, she was pretty sure it had absolutely nothing to do with car insurance.

Mr Winner is the chairman of the Police Memorial Trust and wanted to erect a memorial to her husband PC Bill Barker who died when Workington’s Northside Bridge collapsed at the height of the floods in 2009.

Hazel, 47, recalls: “The call came without warning. He had contacted headquarters but had been told not to ring me before a certain time so that the police could warn me. But Michael Winner wouldn’t stop at that and rang when he wanted to.

“He is a nice man but to say he is a terrier would be an understatement.”

Since than Hazel and Mr Winner have been in touch regularly to talk about the plans which are due to go ahead this year. A memorial stone will be placed on Ramsey Brow in the grounds of Hall Park in Workington, possibly in September.

Hazel says: “Bill travelled the A66 every day when he was on duty. Symbolically, he will still be on duty. Michael feels it’s right that police officers who lose their lives in extreme circumstances should be remembered.”

There will also be a memorial plaque on the replacement Northside Bridge commemorating PC Barker but Hazel has insisted that it is as unobtrusive as possible.

“This area was full of heroes that night,” she says. “I think it is right that he was recognised there because that’s the area where he lost his life. But he was only one of a huge group of people that worked to prevent people from dying.”

A memorial garden is also planned for the Workington police station which will feature the C&K Jones Always Remember Me rose named in memory of PC Barker.

But Hazel has formally requested that the garden is a memorial to all Cumbrian fallen police officers who have died in the line of duty.

Among those Hazel would like us to remember is Bill’s friend and colleague PC Keith Easterbrook, who died on the A595 near Workington while assisting in a vehicle pursuit.

Hazel says “bless you” a lot and speaks always with a warmth and sincerity. She is living proof that bad things can happen to good people. I would like to be able to say that she doesn’t have a bad bone in her body. But that would not be strictly accurate. She will lose her leg to Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSP). It is not a question of if but when.

The pain, she insists, is nothing next to the pain she feels at the loss of her husband.

“I will lose a leg but I can replace that. But the one thing I want to have back I can’t.

“I once said to Bill ‘How could you bear to look at me without a leg?’ but he said visual things were not important to him.”

While Hazel is very open about her grief, the last thing she wants is for people to pity her. Her focus then and now has been her family. That is what has kept her going.

She says: “It’s been two years and five months but the hurt is just as bad now as it was. I put on an act: I have become a good actor.
“I go out and put a smile on my face and throw myself into anything and everything I possibly can. Maybe I’m a coward for that. Sometimes you have to face reality.”

Even now, Hazel can hardly bear to visit the places where her and her husband spent time together.

Everywhere are reminders of their life together.

They may be “beautiful fabulous memories” but perhaps that just makes them all the more poignant and upsetting.

One day she was on Penrith Main Street and had to bolt back to the car. Even now, she can’t go back to her empty bed, preferring instead to sleep on the sofa.

She also hates to be referred to as a “widow” and wants simply to be known as Bill Barker’s wife.

Hazel, who previously lived in Egremont, has now moved to a beautiful house on Manesty Rise, Low Moresby, to make a fresh start.

She lives here with her children and an affectionate little Maltese terrier named Oliver. But even the stunning views from her new house serves to remind her of her loss.

She says: “We bought this house and people said ‘What a wonderful view’. But I hate that view because that water I can see, that’s where I lost Bill. It has completely changed me: I have almost had to reinvent myself. There are glimmers of the old Hazel shining through but I’m not the person I was.

“It is only now that I realise how strong the bond was between Bill and I. First and foremost he was my best friend and I’m proud to be able to call myself his wife.

“Part of me has gone with Bill. I want to be brave and make him proud but most of all I want him to know I will look after his kids.”
Hazel and Bill had four children: Simon, 19, Daniel, 16, Melissa, 17, and Emma, 10, all of whom resemble their father more closely than they do her. “They all look like Bill” laughs Hazel. “I was the human incubator.”

Turning around to speak to one of her sons, she was struck suddenly by his resemblance to her husband and had to walk out of the room.

But Hazel says she has received “unbelievable” support, not just from communities in west Cumbria but from all over the world.

The list of people Hazel wants to thank for their help and support is too long to list here.

Among them are Gary McKeating of Nuclear Management Partners and Gerard Richardson, Whitehaven Festival organiser, for their help with her charity event One Night For Bill ... Cumbria in Union.

Despite all she has been through and all she still has to go through, Hazel Barker’s overwhelming emotion is not bitterness but gratitude.
Perhaps it is this which is PC Bill Barker’s greatest and most enduring memorial.

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