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Michael Robert RYAN






The Hungerford massacre
Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Motive unknown - A loner, a man without friends other than his mother and who lived in part in a world of fantasy that he weaved and his mother perpetuated
Number of victims: 16
Date of murder: August 19, 1987
Date of birth: May 18, 1960
Victims profile: 11 men and 5 women (including his mother)
Method of murder: Shooting (two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun)
Location: Hungerford, Berkshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself the same day


One man's massacre

By Jeremy Josephs



13 A Community in Mourning


To the people of Hungerford

Satan hit the streets again

In Hungerford last week

And caused us all such utter pain

In letting loose his freak.

People wonder where was God

When this event took place

And seem to think it’s rather odd

He didn’t show His face.

But don’t despair I beg of you

For God is well aware

Of what we let the devil do

When we don’t take the care

To notice all the evil roots

Or worry who the devil shoots

Until we’re on his list.

All the folk that died that day

Are up in heaven now

For God has taken them away

As only he knows how

To keep them safe and free from harm

Where Satan fears to tread

Where everything is calm

And no one’s ever dead.

So rest assured you broken hearts

That everything’s alright

And God will mend your injured parts

With all His strength and might.

But let us learn a lesson please

To watch what’s going on

And not allow bad things to squeeze

Where they do not belong.

‘That poem was written by a prisoner in Brixton prison,’ the Reverend David Salt would later reveal, ‘and it arrived at the parish of St Lawrence during the week following the tragedy. It was one of countless communications I received at the vicarage. In fact there were so many offers of help that the vicarage soon had someone working in every room. We got a photocopier and another telephone line pretty quickly. We would prepare mini-press releases, and many of the letters we received also contained donations. They just came flooding in. But of course they all had to be dealt with. There was a tremendous spirit of cooperation. Someone came in to keep up with the press cuttings. Much of what was reported was inaccurate. Then a rumour went around that I had said that everyone should be buried in a mass grave. I used the media myself to correct this, and I sent people around the pubs to repudiate this stupid rumour. If that had got to the bereaved, can you imagine the hurt it would have caused?’

A deeply spiritual man, the Reverend Salt had a philosophy that was nonetheless pragmatic. His message was quite simple. It was that life had to go on. So when, the morning after the tragedy, the vicar was asked if the choir’s rehearsal for their production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical Joseph and the Amazing TechnicolorDreamcoat should continue, he immediately replied that it should. In fact one of the girls in the show was closely involved in the tragedy. She too carried on. Could it be that the prisoner-poet’s assertion that ‘everything’s alright’ was indeed the case? Not for one moment. For the reality was that in the immediate aftermath of the massacre, Hungerford was anything but all right.

As the newspapers set about preparing their headlines that Wednesday evening, a fleet of car transporters passed through the town’s darkened streets. Away went Sandra Hill’s Renault 5. Away went the Playles’ Ford Sierra. Roger Breretods patrol car and Douglas Wainwright’s Datsun likewise soon disappeared into the night. It was as if there was an unconscious attempt to make all evidence of the afternoon’s carnage disappear. The following morning, flowers began to arrive at the town hall, where the flag flew at half-mast. Around the town, there remained traces of chalk marks where Ryan’s victims had fallen, with stray bullets to be found here and there.

If there was indeed an attempt to sweep away all evidence of the massacre, it was not to be successful. For the popular press had been out in force and was now able to report the tragedy in predictable style. The Sun proclaimed: ‘15 Dead and so is Mad Rambo’. In the Daily Mail it was ‘Bloodbath on Market Day’, while the Daily Mirror spoke of the ‘Day of the Maniac’. Many photographs obtained by subterfuge were published. None of this did anything to help the feelings of the people of Hungerford. Within a few days, in the makeshift offices of the hastily established Hungerford Family Help Unit, the telephone was ringing with sad regularity. John Smith, the coordinator, spoke of a town on the verge of a nervous breakdown. No more cheering and chanting now.

‘What we are beginning to see in Hungerford,’ the head of that newly created Berkshire Social Services unit explained, ‘is the manifestation of fear, helplessness, sadness, longing, guilt, shame and anger. What we have to get across is that there is nothing abnormal about this. There is bewilderment too. We do not need specialist facilities and we are trying not to make it a medical problem. But people do need reassurance and to be told it is natural to feel this way. The stiff British upper lip is, for some people, the worst thing possible.’

As a telegram of sympathy arrived from the people of San Ysidro, California, where James Huberty shot twenty-one people dead and wounded nineteen others in the McDonald’s restaurant massacre of 1984, commentators began to plough through Britain’s own criminal records. The events of 19 August 1987 were without doubt the most serious shooting incident ever to take place on British soil, even bloodier than when Jeremy Bamber had slaughtered five members of his family with a rifle back in September 1984.

Unused to the concept of counselling, a good many of the people of Hungerford were nonetheless desperately in need of help. Not that there is anything new about feelings of grief or disorientation in the wake of a tragedy. Indeed, the condition has acquired a jargon of its own, PTSI), post-traumatic stress disorder, being the name given to it. The symptoms vary from one individual to another, but two of its classic features are denial and the inability to communicate. Another is the paradox of ‘survivor’s guilt’, whereby, far from feeling thankful for being alive, survivors suffer remorse at not having done anything to prevent the death of others. Or, they insist, the little they did do was simply not enough.

Murder leaves behind much debris in the lives of those it has affected. Mass murder, though is different: it succeeds in spreading that debris throughout an entire community. This is precisely what happened at Hungerford. Common symptoms are depression, insomnia, nightmares and uncontrolled crying, while children wet the bed and become terrified of strangers. Before long the doctors of Hungerford were inundated with such complaints. Not one of them had ever imagined that one day their surgeries would be overflowing with sufferers from PTSD. Yet such a day had indeed arrived.

Jenny Barnard, whose husband, Barney, had been gunned down by Ryan, reported sensations of anger and bitterness, especially during the early days: ‘A few days after it happened, I just could not understand - why him? I even got to the stage where I was thinking that I could name people - it was probably irrational thinking, I know - who it could have happened to, or who it deserved to happen to. I just felt very cheated. We used to say things to one another like: "Will you still love me when I’m sixty and wrinkled?" And I got very angry and bitter thinking, well, he’s not going to see me when I’m sixty and wrinkled and I won’t see him.’

Like many of his fellow citizens, Ron Tarry, the Mayor of Hungerford, was also reeling in disbelief. He had witnessed the bloodshed at the very closest of quarters, yet he found the reality difficult to digest. His own house in Sarum Way was only yards from where one victim had been gunned down, but still he struggled to believe what had happened. How on earth was it possible, he wondered, for the name of his beloved home town, with its unique and time-honoured traditions, and where he had lived peacefully since the end of the war, to have suddenly become synonymous with the very worst images of carnage and slaughter?

‘I had no idea that I was going to have this role of appearing on the television thrust upon me,’ Ron Tarry explains. ‘The first question I was asked on TV was, what about a tragedy fund? To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about a tragedy fund at that stage. We are a small community of 5000 people where everyone knows everyone - so we were all affected. But I said that people don’t want the knowledge that a tragedy fund is going to be set up; what they need is immediate help from their family and neighbours. I said that for the moment at least, money was not the priority. That was my gut reaction and, looking back, I think it was the right one. Nonetheless, the financial side of things obviously had to be addressed. And on the Thursday morning people from the Round Table made contact and said that they had some money immediately to hand - and what should they do with it? We all went to the police station. They said not to visit the families, to leave that to the social services, who are better trained at that sort of thing. But the Round Table said that they would pay for taxis, rent, TV rentals and so forth - with no red tape. I can tell you that to a lot of people that was very helpful during those first few days.’

The town council of Hungerford could hardly boast an impressive administration. Its only salaried employee was Mrs Fowler, a clerk from Newbury, and she was part-time at that. Yet members of the council gathered spontaneously at the town hall, the focal point of the town. They had come to decide what should be done. The British public, however, had already made up its mind.

‘Before we had even asked for money,’ the former mayor recalls, ‘cheques and cash, some from children, began to arrive at the town hall. It just poured in. It was frenetic, chaotic there. But it became clear that there was going to be a need for a great deal of money, because no one was going to be able to claim on their insurance, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board wouldn’t give a lot of money - and in any case the little they do give can take a year or two to arrive. People came in with cheques for several thousands of pounds. So we decided to open a Tragedy Fund. Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest, the three banks in the town, cooperated in setting it up.’

Immediately, Peter de Savary, the financier who owns the nearby Littlecote House theme park, where Ryan had once worked for a few months as a labourer, contributed £10,000. Gareth Gimblett, the chairman of Berkshire County Council, made a personal contribution of £1000, the local authority itself adding a further £4000. Pensioners wrote in with smaller contributions: £1 here, £5 there. Hungerford’s twin town of Le Ligueil, near Tours in France, wasted no time organizing a campaign of support.

Three trustees of the Tragedy Fund were appointed who lived in the area although not in Hungerford itself and were therefore able to take a more objective view than those closely involved in the tragedy.

Following a message of condolence from Buckingham Palace, Her Majesty’s private secretary wrote to Mayor Tarry on 26 August, enclosing. a personal contribution from the Queen.

Interrupting her Cornish holiday, Mrs Thatcher was soon on the scene. After flying from RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, the Prime Minister drove the ten miles to the Princess Margaret Hospital. Having toured the streets of Hungerford and met some of the relatives of Ryan’s victims, she was close to tears. Looking grave and shaken after these, encounters, she spoke to the assembled members of the press. ‘I am glad I have come,’ she said.1 had to come. It was so unbelievable and the only thing I could do was to be with the people who have suffered. I feel rather like most other people. There are no words in the English language which could adequately describe what happened.’

While the Prime Minister was preparing for her visit to Hungerford that Thursday, the Reverend Salt was preparing for Holy Communion at St Lawrence’s. Reading from the Book of Wisdom, he too struggled to find words which might give some comfort to the bereaved: ‘The souls of the just are in God’s hands and torment shall not touch them ... Their departure was reckoned as defeat and they are going from us a tragedy. But they are at peace.’

The vicar was not to struggle, however, to find words of praise for the role of the Prime Minister: ‘I am someone who does not normally have many good things to say about Maggie. I used to think of her as being brash and tub-thumping. But that day she was not Maggie the politician; she was Maggie the human being. Whilst she met with the bereaved, I took Denis around the garden. I was criticized at the time for not being at the door to meet the PM. I said: "So what - the people who matter here are the bereaved."’

A few days later Downing Street was again in touch with the vicar:

Dear Mr Salt,

Thank you for inviting me to your home and enabling me to meet some of the families who lost their loved ones in the dreadful and tragic shootings at Hungerford. I appreciate the tremendous burdens on you at present, and I know that my own visit added to them. I know so well how little words can do at times like this, but if my visit helped in any way at all I am more than grateful.

My thoughts and prayers will be with you as you continue your work to help and comfort the families who are suffering so much. Yours sincerely

Margaret Thatcher

Mrs Thatcher also wrote to the Mayor:

Dear Mr Mayor

I am most grateful to you for allowing me to visit Hungerford and for accompanying me on Thursday. I was glad to be able to thank so many of those in the town who risked their lives to protect local people during those dreadful and tragic shootings. Hungerford will never forget that day. But I also know from my visit that the magnificent response of its people, and the depth of their feeling and concern for all those who have been injured or lost their loved ones, will never be forgotten either. I feel for you and all those in Hungerford as you care for those who suffer, and as you face the future together. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Yours sincerely

Margaret Thatcher

Ron Tarry was in no doubt that the Prime Minister’s visit had helped a great deal: ‘We were delighted that she had taken the trouble to come. I was with her throughout. I was really stunned by heir, absolutely stunned. I had previously -seen her as a strident parliamentarian - and she was in fact a mother, a woman interested in people and how they had suffered. I was impressed beyond words. She was very kind to the families. It was not a question of a photo-opportunity. It was just me, the local MP Michael McNair-Wilson, Denis Thatcher, the PM and the vicar. It was not a showpiece at all, because all of this took place on the lawn at the back of the vicarage. She talked about looking to the future and was superb. I had met the PM at the police station, and naturally I was keyed up. She asked me to join her cavalcade on the way to the ambulance station. My car was elsewhere, so I said we should walk, since it was only 150 yards away. Michael McNair-Wilson seemed to find the walk difficult, since he had been having dialysis. The PM was not walking with Mr McNair-Wilson but had driven on and was waiting at the ambulance station. I was, however, amazed that she noticed what I hadn’t - that he didn’t feel well - and she expressed concern about it. When we followed her around the fire station someone yelled that she should do something to stop people having guns so easily available, and that was the first time in Hungerford that I heard her Parliamentary voice - it was her Prime Minister’s Question Time voice! But all in all it was a very moving experience. I was very emotional about the whole thing.’

Well received as it was, the Prime Minister’s visit to Hungerford was such that any comfort she might have been able to provide was of a transitory nature. Longer-term care was the responsibility of the Newbury division of Berkshire County Councils Social Services. Its director, Sue Lane, had been involved in the tragedy almost from the outset. This was because her department was responsible for the running of the Chestnut Walk old people’s home, outside of which somebody had been killed. In fact two of her staff had risked their lives by rushing outside in an attempt to help, but only to be instructed to take cover again. Sue Lane’s advice was of an eminently practical nature: ‘Don’t bottle up your feelings. Talk to your children and allow yourself to be part of a group of people who care. Try to take time out to sleep and rest and think, and be with your close family and friends. And remember that there area, lot of people who want to share and help.’

By Friday 21 August, two days after the tragedy, the sharing and helping to which she had referred was to hand in the form of the Hungerford Family Help Unit. Initially based in the town hall, this was able to draw on support from a wide-ranging combination of statutory and voluntary agencies, including social workers, psychiatrists, doctors, the Victim Support Unit, the Samaritans and the widows’ charity CRUSE. The precise purpose of the Unit was to provide an immediate response for people in distress, taking account of both practical and emotional needs, in addition to the planning of continuing care and counselling services over an extended period. Soon leaflets outlining the Unit’s role were being printed in preparation for circulation to every Hungerford. household. That Friday afternoon and evening, within just a few hours of its inception, social workers started visiting families of the bereaved and those with a member who had been injured. Although the social services deserve to be complimented for acting with such rapidity, by-passing many a bureaucratic procedure, their work was not always appreciated by all. The Reverend Salt explains: ‘People didn’t always liase that easily. Ron Tarry and I would try and sort them out every now and then. What we didn’t want was a lot of bureaucracy being set up. And I have to say that at least half the people who were supposed to be helping were running around helping the wrong sort of people. I went into the social services offices once, to find out the addresses of relatives. All I wanted to do was to carry out my pastoral role, providing comfort and so on. But when I would be told that this information was confidential, this would really make me spit and see red.’

The Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, found his way to Hungerford on the Sunday after the tragedy. He announced that he had already summoned a meeting of senior Home Office officials to examine the whole question of private individuals keeping weapons at their homes. There was also talk of introducing an amnesty for illegally held firearms. ‘We are also considering,’ he said, ‘the issue of allowing civilians to have automatic and semiautomatic weapons.’

While the Home. Secretary was deliberating on the issue, however, more than a dozen arms dealers from Dorset to Gateshead continued to advertise for sale, in leading gun magazines, versions of the Soviet-designed Kalashnikov assault rifle and American M1 carbine used by Ryan. In fact, Mick Ranger, the sole UK importer of the type 56 semi-automatic sold to Ryan, and who dealt directly with its Chinese manufacturers, Norinco, reported that sales of the Kalashnikov had increased significantly during the week following the massacre. He insisted that this was entirely coincidental. Nonetheless, he had sold an additional twelve such weapons since Ryan’s rampage through Hungerford.

If some time was still to pass before such weaponry was outlawed, then there was considerably less hesitation about the withdrawal of gratuitously violent videos from public sale. Yet two days after the massacre Martins Newsagents in Hungerford High Street was continuing to display videos such as Annihilation, Wheels of Fire and Wanted Dead or Alive, all depicting violent action on their covers. While the shop’s manager continued to insist that he was obliged to wait for instructions from head office before being able to remove them, the Cannon Cinema in Newbury acted on its own initiative, withdrawing the latest Mel Gibson film, Lethal Weapon.

It was the same story at national level too. The BBC postponed the screening of certain programmes with a violent content. Michael Grade, the then controller of programmes, announced that the three-episode serial The Marksman, starring David Threlfall as a father hunting his son’s killers, was to be delayed for several months. A New Zealand film, Battletrack, about a futuristic marauding gang, was likewise postponed by BBC2. It did not escape the attention of some, however, that it was the BBC which had paid £800,000 for the Rambo film First Blood, and that it was Michael Grade himself who had presided over its screening in September 1986. Everybody, it now seemed, was beginning to learn some lessons from Hungerford.

On the Sunday after the massacre representatives of the three religious denominations associated with Hungerford offered words of comfort to the afflicted town. Each battled hard to reconcile the random massacre with belief in God. The Reverend Salt was well aware that the eyes of the world would be firmly focused upon him that day: ‘On that particular Sunday I knew there would be a lot of press interest. So I thought I might have to be a little bit careful as to what I said. But something would just shoot out of a biblical text. That hasn’t happened to me since the tragedy. I was just so busy that I simply didn’t have time to sit down and meditate. And yet it just flowed. It is God-given. You are just given the additional strength. In fact the best sermons always come out of your actual pastoral situations.’

Among the passages chosen for the day in the Alternative Service Book was II Timothy, Chapter 1, verse 7: ‘God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, and love, and selfcontrol’ Psalm. 34, verse 18, reminded parishioners and press alike that: ‘God is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’

‘Humanity produces Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin as well as Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King,’ the vicar went on to tell more than 300 people who crowded his parish church to overflowing. ‘God gives us the power to do good and the power to do evil. God respects us as his sons and daughters and gives us freedom of choice. The events of last Wednesday leave us numb and empty. We mourn those that have been killed and grieve with those who still suffer, whether physically or mentally. I think all of us feel weak and helpless and we come before God asking for His help and healing.’

A church assistant, Mrs Trudi Pihlens, then read out a slow litany of the names of all sixteen victims. After a momentary pause, she added: ‘Michael Ryan: may God have mercy on his soul.’

In Hungerford’s Roman Catholic church, Father Tim Healey was likewise asking a series of questions to which he was quite unable to provide any answers.

‘What are we to think - that God did not love these people? To think that is to suppose that God did not love his own Son. To conclude that their deaths were devoid of meaning and purpose is to suppose that the death of Christ is devoid of meaning. Can we say that God lost control of events last Wednesday? This would be to deny that God is God.’

The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes stands in Priory Road, where Ryan killed four of his victims. The priest was clearly shaken by the sheer proximity of the killings, saying: ‘We all acknowledge that we live in a somewhat violent society but we never believed events such as these could come so very close. Thus it was that death and injury was to visit and stalk even the very road in which this our small church is situated. It is a nightmare from which we want to wake up.’

The Superintendent Minister of the Newbury and District Methodist Church, the Reverend David Hawkes, addressed himself, by contrast, to Michael Ryan’s state of mind: ‘Such are the impossible questions that plague us and would undermine our struggling faith. But surely no one would want to suggest that Michael Ryan was anything but insane at the crucial moment, and a berserk mind is as much a natural.

While the churchmen were having their say, Michael Stewart was preparing to have his. The Coordinator of the Bradford Fire Disaster had travelled down to Hungerford to see if he might be able to help. In fact he helped a great deal, and his talk at St Lawrence’s church entitled ‘Sharing the Experiences and Problems after a Tragedy’ was particularly well received. He was anxious to ensure that the lessons learned at Bradford were passed on without delay, and he did his best to encourage people to think of the longer term.

Don Philip, however, a social worker with Newbury District Council, made an important distinction between the football-stadium fire at Bradford and the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise off Zeebrugge, which had taken place a few months earlier: ‘They were terrible accidents. Whereas this incident had an element of evil. One problem which we have to face here is that whereas people were looking for scapegoats in the other disasters, here they haven’t got anything other than a corpse to blame.’,

And it was certainly true that to many people the crazed gunman was indeed nothing more than an evil corpse. Not to his relatives, however, for whom matters were far more complex. Ryan’s cousin, David Fairbrass, explains: ‘We feel mixed emotions about what happened. My own feeling is that he was sick. No normal person would do that sort of thing. My mother is a victim as well. We are all victims. Life won’t be the same again. This will always stay with us.’

In the Fairbrass household there was an atmosphere of stunned silence and disbelief. Although they had first heard Ryan’s name mentioned on the BBC’s nine o’clock news bulletin, they had not been informed officially that their relative was indeed the perpetrator of the massacre until two o’clock the following morning. Throughout that night and afterwards, they remained in shock. Stephen Fairbrass, Ryan’s uncle, was initially too upset to make any public comment on the matter, despite an avalanche of requests by the media. But eventually he too spoke out:’1 can’t believe he could do this. He didn’t seem big enough in any sense of the word to go out and do such a terrible thing. He never seemed to have the will to do anything properly. Now we must live with the shame of being connected to this man. I still can’t believe that the Michael Ryan knew is the one who gunned down these people, including his own mother. There was no doubt that Michael was spoiled, but surely this does not explain what he did. I have met many spoiled children and they don’t turn into killers.’

Ryan’s suicide in the John O’Gaunt School had not heralded the end of the police operation. For the emergency response now gave way to the twin roles of supporting the people of Hungerford and the huge task of investigating the incident. Over the next three weeks, more than fifty CID and other specialized officers were to be involved in bringing the investigation to a satisfactory conclusion. Enquiries were carried out to locate next of kin and witnesses. A sweep search ensured that everyone was accounted for and that no injured or dead person had been overlooked. The Casualty Bureau, opened at three o’clock that grim Wednesday afternoon, operated continuously for the following forty-eight hours, dealing with almost a thousand enquiries. A CID Major Incident Room was set up at the Thames Valley Police’s Training Centre, using the Auto-Index computerized crime investigation system. And in addition to the four vehicles of the deceased, a further eleven cars were recovered from the various scenes of crime.

‘On the Sunday I met Douglas Hurd at the police station,’ Ron Tarry recalls. ‘He was quizzed about the gun law by the press. Because we all went along to the shell of Ryan’s house and saw his gun cabinet and so on. He asked some very searching questions. I was moreimpressed by the Prime Minister’s visit, though. In fact after her visit, one town councillor, a local Tory, asked me in for a drink. I told him how well I thought she had done. This chap said that this was what he had been telling me for years, and that he would go off straight away to get me an application form to join the Conservative Party. We often used to kid one another, so I replied: "No thank you - she wasn’t that bloody good"’.

Sue Broughton, then the assistant senior librarian at Newbury and community librarian at Hungerford, realized early on that the town’s library, situated just off the High Street, could have an important role to play in the immediate aftermath of the, tragedy. Acting on her own initiative, she assembled a unique body of material, turning the small library there into a comprehensive information centre. All of her documents had at least one theme in common: how to help people rebuild their lives after the tragedy. It was a facility which was to prove extremely effective during the next few months, widely used and appreciated as it was by the people of Hungerford, and for which she would later be honoured.

Ernie Peacock, chairman of the Hungerford Town Band, wondered whether the fete and dog show planned for the Sunday after the massacre and originally intended to raise money for the band, should be cancelled. After consulting widely, he finally decided that it should go ahead, but that all the proceeds should go instead to the Tragedy Fund. That Sunday there was an atmosphere of mourning in the air. On the fairground on Hungerford Common the Union Jack hung at half-mast on a short pole hammered in earlier that morning. Band members stood to attention dressed in black, and the proceedings began with prayers and hymns. Ron Tarry, always on hand, spoke of how the people of Hungerford were weeping, some of them silently perhaps, but weeping nonetheless.

By the end of the day Jean Strong, on the cake stall, had made £70, selling home-made scones and walnut cakes and bunches of onions from people’s gardens. Her customers insisted on her keeping the change. On another table, among the mugs and saucers, were laid two toy pistols with a picture of a running commando behind them, and priced at £1.50. By the end of the afternoon’s rather strained proceedings, they had still to find a buyer.

In the week following the tragedy, the epicentre of the stress it had caused was inevitably the market town itself. But many other people, many from out of town, had been affected too. Indeed a good number of the police officers who had had indirect responsibility in the earlier stages of the massacre were themselves soon reporting many of the symptoms of stress. The Thames Valley Police acted speedily to make stress counselling available, through the offices of the Force’s Welfare Officers, in addition to liaising with a trained counsellor and a consultant psychiatrist.

Still riding on a tidal wave of spiritual support and Christian love, the Reverend Salt continued to administer his own brand of counselling. I don’t know what we really mean by bereavement,’ he would later reflect. ‘Maybe we are talking about trying to release pain. But I think, initially, for many people, it may just come out as physical pain. Just as, if I was to jump on someone’s foot, they might howl. And there was indeed this immediate, physical reaction. Then there’s also the mental pain - the kind of thing you get when a small child hurts itself but doesn’t actually cry until it catches up with mummy. And then, of course, there can be a kind of spiritual pain in trying to reconcile and get meaning from all of that.’

Ron Tarry was experiencing every one of these pains. But he could find no meaning in anything that Ryan had done. He decided, however, unconsciously perhaps, that to a certain extent his own grief and questioning would have to be deferred, for there was simply too much work to be done. During the first week after the tragedy Mayor Tarry was seldom out of camera shot. There were times, during those first few days, when representatives of the media would be queuing at his doorstep in Sarum Way.

‘I thought that this was a role I could usefully carry out. In fact when I announced the creation of the Tragedy Fund, on the balcony of the town hall, there were hundreds upon hundreds of press there. I am amazed to this day that I wasn’t absolutely panic-stricken. But you gain the strength from somewhere. I knew what I wanted to say. It was a challenge. I thought I could do it. That I had to do it. And that it had to be me. So, again, I would say to myself, "Just be yourself. Don’t put on any airs. Just be yourself."’

When the broadcaster and journalist Sandy Gall had read the news on ITN’s News at Ten that Wednesday evening, he had begun thus: ‘Hungerford before today was known as a peaceful town.’ He

could hardly have put it more succinctly, for as the modest Mayor went on to explain on that same news bulletin: ‘This town will never be the same again.’


14 ‘Jesus Christ bless you, Hannah’

As the Hungerford Family Help Unit began to establish itself, and cash and cheques continued to arrive at the town hall, so the funeral parlours of Berkshire suddenly found themselves with business they would rather not have had. For despite the previous week’s surge of activity, ranging from the visit of the Prime Minister to the rather sorrowful staging of the local fete and dog show, not a single burial or cremation had taken place. Sixteen funerals were thus awaited.

PC Roger Brereton’s funeral was scheduled to take place on Thursday 27 August. But Liz Brereton was to see her husband before that: ‘I asked to be taken to see him at a chapel of rest. He was lying there looking like he did when I first met him. He looked so young. I could tell by the look on his face that he hadn’t died in agony. I remember making some stupid remark like: "Doesn’t he look well!" And then I told him that I loved him very much.’

It was their last private moment together, for Roger Brereton’s funeral was very much a public affair. Over 400 people attended, including 250 police officers representing most of Britain’s forty-three forces. Douglas Hurd was present for the service at the parish church of St Mary’s in Shaw-cum-Donnington, on the outskirts of Newbury. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Mr, later Sir, Peter Imbert, attended too. Seven uniformed police motorcyclists led the funeral cortege, with a twenty-six-strong police guard of honour lining the path to the tiny sandstone church. Six officers carried the coffin, draped in the Thames Valley Police flag, whose Latin motto translates as ‘Let There be Peace in Thames Valley’, and upon which PC Brereton’s cap had been placed. Softly, the organist played ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’. The Chief Constable of the Thames Valley Police, Colin Smith, paid tribute to his constable: ‘It is so tragic, but perhaps appropriate if his life had to be so cruelly cut short, that he should die when, aware of the risks, he went right into the centre of a very dangerous situation with the clear intention of trying to help save the lives of the people of Hungerford.’

As the service continued, Liz Brereton looked around the packed church. All around her tears were being shed. Her two teenaged sons, relatives, friends, policemen, policewomen, officials of all kinds: they were all unable or unwilling to restrain their grief. Not Liz Brereton, though: ‘I wanted to cry. But I just couldn’t. All I experienced was just a few tears when they handed me his cap after the cremation. But that was all.’

The Reverend Salt was wrestling with a dilemma of an altogether more practical nature. It was clear that, with Hungerford continuing to be the focus of worldwide media attention, especially now that the funerals were taking place, his words to the bereaved would receive widespread publicity. And it was equally clear that many VIPs were going to attend. Nor had the vicar ever officiated at the joint burial of a husband and wife, a fate that now awaited Myrtle and Jack Gibbs, into whose house Ryan had stormed. He was to succeed, however, in finding the additional strength necessary to carry him through those early, traumatic days. While it was unthinkable to simply repeat the same sermon for each funeral, the Reverend Salt was nonetheless able to identify a common theme. This was that what mattered most was the knowledge that in terms of death people are not divided, either with God or, in Hungerford’s current situation, as a community.

Funerals and fund-raising went on simultaneously. Plans were soon in hand for a wide variety of events. An all-star rugby match was arranged in support of the appeal, and a celebrity cricket match. As a housebound pensioner was offering to make soft toys to sell, with the proceeds going to the fund, organizers from the Welsh male-voice choirs of Llanelli and Cwmbach gathered to see how they too might be able to help. Amounts ranging from as little as 2p, from children’s pocket money, to cheques for up to £10,000 continued to find their way to the fund. A member of the Rootes family contributed £5000, and a local garage donated a Nissan car worth the same amount.,

Celebrities from the world of entertainment discussed the making of a record, the royalties from which would go to the appeal. The pop singer Sinitta, the Coronation Street star Chris Quenten, the EastEnders actor Leonard Fenton and the singer Marti Webb liaised via their agents to see if they might not be able to collaborate on a project. Meanwhile, a sponsored cycle ride was being organized, in addition to a mass display by the Kent Parascending Team. Even a local thief appeared to have been overcome by an outbreak of conscience. Having stolen the contents of a collection box for the fund from the Halfway House pub in nearby Kintbury, he telephoned the pub’s manager to inform him that not only would he be returning the cash, albeit anonymously, he would also be adding a contribution of his own.

That telephone call was made on Friday 28 August, the same day as the funeral of Sue Godfrey, Ryan’s first victim. She was buried at the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in her home village of Burghfield Common. More than fifty wreaths were laid in the churchyard, and over two hundred mourners were present, including the two Wiltshire police officers who had found Sue’s body, riddled with bullets, in the Savernake Forest eleven days earlier. Hannah and James Godfrey heard the Reverend David Smith speak of their mother’s great kindness. Both were clutching cuddly toys, as if, one newspaper put it the following day, ‘teddy eases the pain’.

The vicar asked a question to which he was unable to provide even the hint of an answer: ‘Why did it have to happen, especially to someone so gentle, so loving, so caring, so much involved in the community in which she lived a life spent caring for others? Someone described her as a small person in a big uniform with a big heart and an even bigger smile. She was always bubbling over, she was always smiling, and even the most sick and pain-stricken patients had a different glow come over them when she was in their presence. With her sudden and tragic passing we know it can never be the same again. An area of life, a familiar voice, a known footstep has sadly disappeared and cannot ever be recreated.’

Unaware of why she and her brother were the centre of attention, Hannah clung tightly to an aunt with one hand and to a rag doll with the other. Her pink dress and yellow ribbons echoed the flowers that were strewn beside the path to her mother’s grave. It was not Hannah’s first visit to the church in recent days, for she had attended the latter part of a service the previous Sunday, immediately after religious classes that day. Then, the Reverend Jeffrey Daley, kneeling before the altar, had laid his hands on the little girls blonde hair and uttered the words: ‘Jesus Christ bless you, Hannah, whereupon almost the entire congregation had broken down with the raw agony of grief.

Five days after their mother had been laid to rest, the children left a wreath of roses and carnations by her grave. Their message was simple, and written in childish scrawl: ‘To Mummy - all our love. ‘Next to it lay a wreath from their father, Brian Godfrey, Wish you were here, Sue - all my love; it read.

Mayor Tarry, as busy as ever, was suffering too: ‘The awfulness of the tragedy was driven home to me at the funerals. I went to seven or eight of them within two days. They are bad enough at, the best of times. But it was the repeating and the repeating of the funerals. Sandra Hill used to live just around the corner from me, and I knew her father quite well. I went to her cremation at Oxford. She had just come back to Hungerford to see some friends. She was young. The chapel was full of young people. That was the last funeral I went to. I couldn’t speak to the parents afterwards. I was just exhausted. She had just chanced to be in Hungerford that day. I was very upset indeed then. I thought, I can’t take much more of this. That really was a low point for me. But there was so much else to do, I simply had to get on.’

The first of the funerals had taken place two days earlier, on Wednesday 26 August, exactly one week after the massacre. It was the funeral of Erie Vardy. At the graveside, his widow, Marlyne, wept uncontrollably. Clutching a spray of red roses, she heard the Reverend Nigel Sands speak eloquently about a shocked and stunned rural community. Addressing the mourners in the twelfth-century parish church of St Mary’s in Great Shefford, West Berkshire, he said: ‘We have from afar become blase about news of violence and sudden death in Ireland and the Middle East. But when it came to our doorsteps or, for one family, into our living-room, we learned in the most awful manner that murder and mayhem are not confined to Beirut and Belfast.’

In fact another irony haunted the death of Erie Vardy. For one year earlier, Marlyne and Eric Vardy had together made arrangements for her funeral rather than his. This was because medical experts had deemed it extremely unlikely that Marlyne, although only in her forties, would survive major cancer surgery. But she

had defied their judgement, and thus it fell to her, not Eric, to write the wording of a wreath. She chose a heart of red roses on a bed of white carnations, the flowers bearing her final message of


Time cannot dim the face I love,

The memory of your smile,

The countless things you did for me

To make my life worthwhile.

You’ve left a place no one can fill

In my heart you’ll live forever

Love, Marlyne

Day after day, it seemed, in every corner of Berkshire, funerals were taking place. More than 200 people attended the funeral of Mr Abdul Rahman Khan, as Muslim mourners paid their last respects. Chief Constable Cohn Smith led a contingent of Thames Valley police officers at the cremation of Douglas Wainwright, shot down in his car. His widow, Kathleen, herself injured in the shooting, attended the service wearing a sling. And as that cremation was taking place, more than 300 people crowded into St Lawrence’s, to hear the Reverend Salt conduct the double funeral of Myrtle and Jack Gibbs, in the presence of their four sons and three daughters. As he did so, less than half a mile away a private family service was being held for Francis Butler, the twenty-six-year-old accounts clerk gunned down while walking his dog.

The funeral service of Dorothy Ryan, the gunman’s mother, was one of the few to face rows of empty pews. Some forty mourners attended the service, which was conducted by Canon John Reynolds. He chose to avoid any mention of her son and made only the most fleeting of references to the massacre he had perpetrated at Hungerford. Although the Canon described Mrs Ryan as a kind, warm and generous person, he made no mention of her role as a devoted mother to the man who, ten days earlier, had shot her dead as she begged for her life to be spared. The funeral was held at St Mary’s Church in Calne, Wiltshire, Dorothy Ryan’s birthplace and the home of her sister, Mrs Nora Fairbrass. A senior officer from the Thames Valley Police attended the funeral, as did a representative of Hungerford Town Council. Nobody doubted that Dorothy Ryan was herself a victim, and indeed her grave was heaped with flowers, including an anonymous circle of white chrysanthemums with the message: ‘With Christian Love - From One Mother to Another.’

Another mother in some difficulty during that week of funerals was Jenny Barnard. The cremation of her husband, Barney, took place on the same day as Roger Brereton’s, and it was the first of the funerals to be held in the massacre town itself. More than 300 people attended the service conducted by the Reverend Wallace Edwards in the town’s Methodist chapel. As Jenny Barnard held their silently sleeping five-week-old son Joe tightly to her chest, ‘Bridge over Troubled Waters’, Barney’s favourite tune, was played as the cabby’s coffin was carried in.

‘He was a bridge over troubled waters to many people,’ said the Methodist minister. ‘One of the characters who made Hungerford tick. Barney had such plans for Joe. He is the son Barney adored. We are grateful that he had him, if only for five weeks. This little boy represents an opportunity to us all. We cannot undo what happened last week, but we can help Jenny, Joe’s mother, to bring him up as Barney would have wanted her to do.’

As Wallace Edwards read from the Book of Lamentations and the Gospel of St John, Jenny Barnard, dressed in black, sobbed and shook uncontrollably. ‘Barney brought sunshine into old people’s lives,’ the minister said. ‘Sometimes he didn’t even collect his fares. He cared for people and carried them. God worked through Barney and this was his way of answering our prayers. Of course the effect of this tragedy will stay with us for a long time. We are a tight-knit community. But I do see a little light at the end of the tunnel. He is a little light shining in our darkness. And his name is Joe.,

Not so very far away, at Newbury Baptist church, the Reverend Granville Overton was officiating at the burial service of Ian Playle, the Justices’ clerk. He had died in hospital some forty-eight hours after being shot by Ryan. His widow immediately agreed that his heart and kidneys could be used for transplantation. By doing this and helping others, the minister said, Ian Playle’s love of life was being perpetuated. And so, all around Hungerford, the funerals were to continue. One after another, throughout that week, until Roland and Sheila Mason, Ken Clements and George White - and eventually all sixteen of Ryan’s victims - had likewise been laid to rest. ‘Social services asked me if I was all right,’ recalls Ron Tarry. ‘They asked how I was coping. My wife told them that this is how he spends his life - rushing around - so let him rush around now - it’s what he knows best. But the next week I spent just exhausted and flat. But all the time the functions were going on. As Mayor I had to go along to receive the money, so that sort of carried me through. Groups of children would have large sales, often selling off their own toys. One sale raised £12. That touched me as much as the larger donations. Others had had a sponsored silence. And I remember thinking at the time how delighted the parents must have been to see their children raise money in that way.’

David Lee, the headmaster of the John O’Gaunt School, was in something of a quandary. Ryan had taken refuge in the school after the shootings. There, he had made his way into Room 6, used mainly for English lessons, where he had himself been taught. Having barricaded the door with a filing cabinet, table and chairs, he had conducted a tense conversation with Sergeant Brightwell from that room. And it was there, too, that he had taken his own life. Days later Ryan’s blood was still on the walls; the windows remained smashed. But exercizing the mind of the headmaster was the fact that exactly twenty days after the massacre, some 700 children were due to begin the new school year.

David Lee wondered what his approach should be. ‘I dread to think what would have happened if all of this had taken place when the school had been occupied; he admitted. ‘The town has had a traumatic experience, and so have the children. But it’s not for me to protect them from reality. I think to pretend that nothing had happened would be ridiculous.’

By the time the pupils returned on Tuesday 8 September they found the room in which Ryan had taken refuge looking spick and span. It had been completely redecorated and refurbished, and all traces of the recent events eliminated. Nonetheless, a team of counsellors and psychiatrists stood by, ready to help any child who might be having difficulty coping with the chilling thought of being taught in a room where a former pupil had taken his own life immediately after slaughtering sixteen people. But the team of experts found themselves without work that day. David Lee had every reason to feel proud of his pupils, and he did.

Two weeks and two days after the start of the school term, the spotlight was once again on Hungerford, for the inquest was about to begin. The coroner for West Berkshire, Charles Hoile, instructed the jury that it was up to them to examine the fury and ferocity of Ryan’s attack. Jurors were handed booklets containing photographs of the bodies and the area where the victims had met their deaths. Piled under a pink blanket were Ryan’s two semi-automatic rifles and the Beretta pistol with which he had taken his own life. His bloodstained body armour and battledress jacket were also waiting to be displayed. Evidence was taken from Thomas Warlow, a firearms expert. Then Dr Richard Shepherd, a forensic pathologist, gave graphic and detailed accounts of the wounds and probable causes of death of each of the victims.

Altogether, seventy-three statements were selected for use in court. Some were to be delivered in person by the witness, in which case further questioning could take place, while others, like Hannah Godfrey’s, were simply read. Throughout the four-day hearing, nuns from a Franciscan community in the area took responsibility for welcoming and caring for people who came or who were brought to them in the hall. The Hungerford Family Help Unit was again in action, working closely with the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the task of collecting death certificates after the hearing. Unit staff were also involved throughout the hearings providing support for witnesses and relatives alike. The inquest was undoubtedly another milestone in the events set in train by that fateful Wednesday afternoon. So much had happened in Hungerford, and yet the massacre had taken place just one month earlier.

Liz Brereton was continuing to receive a great deal of support from both family and friends. But she kept insisting that she simply did not need any of the professional help which was constantly being offered to her. ‘That’s the trouble with me,’ she would later admit, ‘I’m terribly stubborn. I did have some support, but not fullscale counselling. It was only when my dog had to be put down, a little later on, that it all came out. Ben was my husband Roger’s dog, a border collie, but he was my shadow. When I heard the news, I just dropped the phone, and that was it, it all came out that day. Then I just couldn’t stop. This trigger of the dog was like coming out of a cage for me, because it was only then that I really began to realize precisely what I had lost. Notjust my partner and friend, but a future too. Then, the tears really did come in earnest, and they still do. And I suppose that has to be a good thing.’

Because the shooting of Sue Godfrey had taken place in Wiltshire rather than Berkshire, a separate inquest had to be held. Once again the experts were out, relaying the minutiae of her death as part of the official procedures which had to be followed. During the first few weeks after the murder of their mother both Hannah and James repeatedly wet their beds. Neither of them could sleep and kept making their way to their father’s bedroom. F7rom the outset, though, Brian Godfrey’s courage had shone through. ‘No matter how bleak things look now,’ he insisted at the time, ‘I am determined to hold things together for the sake of the children. But God knows what they must be going through.’

With all the innocence of their age, Hannah and James would speak of the nasty man who took mummy away and shot her. With the blunt honesty of small children, they would talk openly about the killing. It was only when they would fall or hurt themselves that they would cry out for the mother they had lost. Brian Godfrey reveals: ‘They talk about it quite frequently. They are very frank about it. In fact it’s sometimes difficult to cope with the way they are talking about it. It takes people by surprise. Shortly before the inquest James fell over and hurt himself. He was crying out, asking for mummy. We had a big crying session and I told them that mummy would not be coming back. Hannah has been particularly protective towards her brother. As for me, I seemed to have a constant headache for weeks on end, though. I just felt sick. In those early days I would go into each of the children’s rooms, before they went to sleep each night and say: "Right, any worries, questions, problems". I remember that James was very sweet one night. I walked in and before I could speak he said: I not got no problems daddy." I thought, well, at least one of us is doing all right.’

On Thursday 8 October 1987 a memorial and rededication service was held for the town of Hungerford. It was, according to Mayor Tarry, the day on which life in the town could begin again. Three thousand grieving townsfolk, some sixty per cent of the population of Hungerford, huddled against the cold by the steps of the town hall in a moving open-air service, shared with millions of television viewers. Once again, the flag on the town hall fluttered at half-mast. The Reverend Salt, who was responsible for much of the organization, bid everyone welcome that evening, and said: ‘Together we now place ourselves before Almighty God, our Heavenly Father. May we, who have been preserved, dedicate ourselves anew to His service. May we offer ourselves to each other in the life of our community, with respect for every human soul, and with thankfulness for all God’s gifts to us. To Almighty God, our Creator, and the defender of every soul, living and departed, be all praise and glory, now and for ever. Amen.’

It was the closest anybody was to get, that evening, to mentioning the name of Michael Ryan. As the list of the deceased was read out by Mayor Tarry, the gunman’s name, a hard one to utter in that grieving town, was deliberately omitted.

The VIPs were out in force. The Queen and Prince Philip, were represented by the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, Colonel the Hon. Gordon Palmer. The junior Home Office minister, Douglas Hogg, stood in for the Prime Minister. The Prince and Princess of Wales were represented by Prince Harry’s godfather, the Hon. Gerald Ward, a wealthy West Berkshire landowner and one of the three trustees of the Tragedy Fund.

The principal sermon was preached by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most Reverend and Right Honourable Robert Runcie. He was convinced that Hungerford was already on the road to recovery, as he said:’The sharing of hurt is often the beginning of its healing. And all that I have heard about the people of this town and your reaction to this tragedy convinces me that the healing process has already begun. Those of you here, that day shared in common fear and bewilderment. It was then that you became companions in adversity. And such companionship in adversity has its own good and healing power. It breeds not bitterness but warmth. You have already begun to build your life on the stories you have to tell. I think of Susan Godfrey, the first victim, whose calm and measured response saved the lives of her children. They will grow knowing her story and so learning how closely love and sacrifice are linked. I think too of Police Constable Roger Brereton, whose courage cost him his life, who knew that the community looked to him for its own safety.’

Just before the Archbishop’s address, there was a commemoration of the departed. It came in the form of a poem written by the Reverend Geoffrey Carr, formerly Rural Dean of Bradfield:

Deep Sympathy to Hungerford, August 1987

History has been kind the centuries down

To our beloved, ancient, quiet town;

Many have lived and died in peace while bearing

Our mede of human ills and pain and sharing,

Until the holocaust of a bright summer’s day

Swept, in the crash of shots, our peace away.

Before, no thought could ever have conceived

Such bloody ending to the way we lived;

Before we took for granted we lived far

From crimes of madness, so much worse than war.

We still cannot believe a God-hating devil

Could turn a neighbour’s mind to speechless evil.

But 2, 000 years ago, to kill a child

A king by fear and jealousy made wild,

Deliberately, knocking door to door

Sent soldiers; no regard for rich or poor,

To snatch each baby boy, two years and under,

From family and life to rend asunder.

No words can fully tell our grief - or theirs,

But weeping we can turn to One Who cares.

Mary was saved from Bethlehem mother’s loss

Only to watch her Son upon the Cross ...

He broke the awful power of crime and death;

Tortured, yet praying with each pain-filled breath

‘Father, forgive, they know not what they do’

He lives to heal and love and comfort you.

He promises the world the Day will come

When tears, pain, death will no more rend a home.

Men will learn war no more, a child shall lead

The lion; savage beasts together feed.

So hope, bearing this bitter cross, be blest,

By Jesus;. . . ‘Come, and I will give you rest.’

The people of Hungerford had assembled in the open air because an abbey or cathedral would have been too small a venue for such a multitude, and too remote from the town. Nonetheless, to assemble on the steps of the town hall was an odd, risky choice. In fact it was a triumph, a moving, restrained and dignified occasion; so successful indeed that many people in the town wondered if it ought not to represent the end of Hungerford’s formal mourning period. Was it perhaps not the appropriate time, they asked, for the work of the Family Help Unit to cease, and thus for many of the experts from outside to now be given their marching orders?

‘Of course that didn’t mean that the mourning was over,’ the Reverend Salt explains. ‘But it was something of the turning over of a new leaf. The service gave us a definite focus, We are really called parsons - which Comes from the word "persona" - the face of the community. And that was my job really, to make the community accept the situation. Because if you don’t it just won’t ever be possible to grow or move forwards.’

As theTragedy Fund edged towards the £1 million mark, the composer Andrew Lloyd. Webber organized a gala evening at St Nicholas’s church, Newbury, not far from his home. Sarah Brightman took the leading role in her husband’s Requiem Mass. Julian Lloyd Webber also took part, playing his cello. It was the biggest single money-raising event, providing over £50,000 for the fund. At the beginning of December, however, Ron Tarry announced that the fund was to close shortly after Christmas. In the end, over £1 million was raised.

As the months passed by, the Hungerford massacre began to fade from the public’s mind. This was precisely what many of the town’s residents had been hoping for for some time, as the prevalent feeling now was that of wanting to be left alone. Even so, services and ceremonies continued to take place. In February 1988 the Reverend Salt participated, together with his Bishop, in a ceremony for the dedication of a memorial plaque at Hungerford. The memorial itself formed part of a screen surrounding the church’s new vestry. And then, four months later, Downing Street issued an operational note announcing the Queen’s civil gallantry awards. The time had come to honour some of the many heroes of Hungerford.

A letter from the Central Chancery of The Orders of Knighthood, St James’s Palace, London, dated 8 June 1988, announced:

The Queen has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct to the undermentioned:

Roger Brereton (deceased), Lately Constable, Thames Valley Police Linda Constance, Mrs Bright, Ambulancewoman, Berkshire Ambulance Service

Miss Carol Irene Hall, Air Stewardess, British Airways plc

Carl Peter Lawrence Harries, Lance Corporal, The Royal Engineers Hazel Jacqueline, Mrs Haslett, Ambulancewoman, Berkshire Arnbulance Service

Michael Thomas Palmer, Supervisor, Newbury District Council

David John Sparrow, Lifeguard and Attendant, Newbury District Council

Jeremy John Wood, Constable, Thames Valley Police

In recognition of bravery following the shooting incident at Hungerford, Berkshire, on 19th August 1987.

The gallantry awards were presented by Prince Charles a few weeks later at a ceremony at County Hall in Oxford, at which the Prince spoke to the recipients and their families. Liz Brereton attended, together with her two sons, Shaun and Paul. Holding the award certificate and two silver laurel leaves, she made the briefest of statements to the assembled press corps: ‘All I want to say is that I am very, very proud.’ Did this indicate, perhaps, that eleven months after the massacre, Liz Brereton was beginning to emerge from her period of mourning? It did not.

‘Actually I used to spend quite a lot of time thinking about suicide,’ Liz recalls. ‘Because I was so desperate to be with Roger again. I was thinking of any possible way ofjoining him. But I knew that deep down I wouldn’t really have done it. What would have happened to my sons - and what about the grief I would then have inflicted upon my own parents and in-laws? Still, the first Christmas without Roger was pretty terrible. I came into the kitchen and the boys came in after me and we had a good cry together.’

On 28 July 1988 a Garden Party took place at Buckingham Palace. Both Ron Tarry and the Reverend David Salt received an invitation to attend. ‘Maybe that was a reward, I don’t know,’ Ron Tarry would later reflect. ‘My wife and I, and our younger daughter, Claire, were presented to the Queen on that occasion. We went along with the Salts. A few days before it was due to take place the Lord Chamberlain’s office rang to say that Her Majesty would like to meet me. I obviously couldn’t go in my old Escort, so the local garage lent me a Granada, because we had been given VIP parking in the grounds of the Palace. I found the Queen to be very informed. It was comparatively relaxed. As I was talking, I was trying to concentrate, of course, but also to savour the moment. That here I am on the Palace lawn, me,. Ron Tarry from nowhere, talking to the Queen.’

If the people of Hungerford thought that now that almost one year had passed since the tragedy, they would be left alone, they were mistaken. On the contrary, as the first anniversary of the massacre approached, it was for the media yet another opportunity to revisit the town. On Sunday 14 August 1988, just five days before the first anniversary, the BBC screened a documentary in the Everyman series, charting the plight of the grieving town. Fortunately it was a sensitive, reflective piece of television journalism. In her contribution to the programme Jenny Barnard developed the theme of the changing nature of grief. ‘Well, I’ve now come to realize that there is a meaning to my life. And the meaning of my life is Joe. He makes life worth living. I have now started to feel that life is worth living. I used to feel guilty about actually going out and laughing. But I’ve got over that stage now. I know that Barney would have wanted me to have gone out and laughed and joked. But as for that awful cliché "light at the end of the tunnel", well, I can see that there is probably light at the end of the tunnel. But how far along the tunnel I am I really couldn’t say. Because some days you seem as though you’re way up. And on another day you’re back down again.’

Writing in the Newbury Weekly News, Ron Tarry issued a plea for self-restraint by the press: ‘As we approach the anniversary of that dreadful day last year, I am sure that I am echoing the feelings of many people in Hungerford who feel that, if television, radio and the national press must mention the date they do so reverently and without sensationalizing the event.’

It was a plea which fell on deaf ears in some quarters of the press. In fact many of the townspeople went away for the day when 19 August finally arrived. All of the town’s shops closed. But wreaths placed at the Hungerford war memorial amply demonstrated that the guilt peculiar to survivors had still to be eradicated in the town.Sorry I could not save you,’one card read, ‘but I tried to do so. I will never forget.’

Liz Brereton also had reason to reflect on that sad day: ‘Well, as for the posthumous medal and all that, I say: "Look what I had to lose to get this." They all told me that Roger died a hero. I didn’t want him to be a hero. I just wanted him to be alive.’



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