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Survivor Stories

Survivor Stories

There are many survivors who have rebuilt their lives following the death of an officer on duty, and we would like to feature some of their stories here on our website.

Reading such stories can be a great support to recent survivors, who will probably think that they will never move beyond the overwhelming grief that is such a feature of the loss of a loved one.

If you are willing to share any stories of how you coped, and what helped you to do so, please contact us.

On the 17th June 1994 my husband Lewis was stabbed to death while on duty in Glasgow city centre. Lewis was 28 years old, we had been married for less than two years, and our son Luke was only seven months old.

Christine Fulton

I really don't remember much of the first few months afterwards. I was determined to be strong for the sake of our son. I probably gave the impression that I was far stronger and coping better than I really was; in fact I seemed to spend more time comforting other people, including the police, than they did me.

A year passed and people's attitude towards me changed.. Comments such as "I expect you're over it now" and questions such as "Have you met somebody new?" became commonplace, as though reaching the magical twelve month marker made everything alright. Why couldn't they see that behind my calm façade I was falling apart? People had stopped asking if I needed any help so I didn't feel I could ask, and if truth be told, I was a little ashamed; what sort of a failure was I, that I felt worse now than I did when Lewis died? Everybody else seemed to think I should be better, so I convinced myself that there had to be something wrong with me.

About two years after Lewis died, I was walking back from the park. It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon, my son was in his pushchair and my dog was by my side. I was walking up a hill and was so mentally and physically exhausted, that I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. I remember thinking to myself "If only I was dead I would never feel this bad again". Not that I wanted to die, not that I wanted to commit suicide, but at that moment in time, I didn't feel I could go on without Lewis. All I wanted to do was lie down, go to sleep and never wake up again. From somewhere I found the strength to make it up the hill and through that day, and the next and the next.

Several years later Jim McNulty persuaded me to go with him to Washington DC USA to attend National Police Week , and observe a survivor support group called Concerns of Police Survivors, Inc. (US COPS) . I had gone expecting to have an interesting holiday; I didn't expect to gain a lot from the experience as it was now nearly nine years since Lewis had died. For the first time, I found myself in a room full of police widows, and without ever intending to, I told them about the day I couldn't make it up the hill and had wanted to die. A lady sitting next to me nodded and said "Yes, that's exactly how it was for me", and the ripple went round the room as other women agreed. Suddenly I realised that everything I had felt, said, done or thought since Lewis' death was normal. I wasn't nuts I was normal, just nobody had been able to tell me that. A weight lifted off my shoulders that I hadn't even realised was there.

In 2003 I became the co-founder, along with Jim McNulty, of Care of Police Survivors (COPS) . COPS is here to provide the peer support which survivors need to help them rebuild their lives, because we are the only ones who truly understand. Sometimes all it takes is for somebody to listen to you, and to be able to say "That's exactly how it was for me". We all go through the same range of emotions, anger, denial, grief, acceptance. We don't all do it in the same order or in the same time scale, but we do it. If you are a survivor then you are no longer alone. COPS is here for you. It doesn't matter if your officer died recently or many years ago. I hope you can draw strength from this organisation. We are here if ever you need us.

Christine Fulton MBE

Constable Lewis Fulton, Strathclyde Police – Died on 17 June 1994 when he was stabbed as he and several other officers struggled with a man on a Glasgow street in the middle of a busy afternoon.

It is now almost ten years since the knock that we all dread came to our door, in the early house of May 8th 1995. "Mrs Edwards?" asked the young policeman. Thank goodness he's mistaken. "No. I'm Mrs Morton." "But you have a daughter Sandra?" Of course, she'd married and she's Mrs Edwards. "I'm sorry to tell you there's been an accident ..." How many of us have heard those fateful words? Our only child Sandra died following an horrific accident while pursuing a stolen car. Life support was turned off on May 10th 1995, the day before her 29th birthday. I had her birthday card with me.

How were we going to survive without her? I remember the words spoken to me by a dear friend, who had lost two children to cystic fibrosis, and was widowed at an early age. You think you will never survive that first day, but you do. You think you will never survive your child's funeral, but you do. You think you will never survive that first birthday, first Christmas, first anything, but you do. You think you will never want to laugh again, go on holiday again, sing again, but you do. I stopped singing for so long that I can no longer hit the high notes!

About six weeks after Sandra's death, a well-meaning friend said: "Well, I expect you are starting to get over it now." That will never happen, will it? You never get over something like this, but you do try to live with it. Many of you who I have been fortunate enough to meet at COPS weekends will have heard me quote words that sum up my and my husband Tom's feelings. Time does not heal; it makes a scar that is easily broken. When that scar breaks and this can be at any time, the tears come.

In the beginning, Tom and I cried together, of course we still do as I am still fortunate to have a wonderful husband and soul mate, but we found that in our grief and feeling for each other, we were pulling each other down into an abyss of despair. At times like this I can understand how one can want to end it all and go and join our lost loved ones. So Tom and I made a pact that at such times, we would find a place to be alone to give vent to our grief, and then come back together, when we were calmer, for comfort.

We try to live our lives the way Sandra would want us to. While not great church goers, we still have great faith that one day we will all three be back together again, and we pray each night to be given the strength to carry on as we always have. I often hear Sandra saying "Go for it Mam!"

I think this is the first time I have put my feelings down on paper. We all grieve in different ways, and I hope some of what I have said may be a comfort and help to my fellow survivors, because that is what we are, and hard thought it is, I feel we must try to move forwards, and be there to help each other do the same. Remember; keep talking about your loved ones. I believe you have not lost them, just parted from them for a while.

Constable Sandra Jane Edwards, South Yorkshire Police - Died on 10th May 1995, aged 28 when her traffic car crashed while pursuing a stolen vehicle.

It was just after 12:30am that the dreaded knock on the door came. There were two uniformed officers there. "Mr. Gunn?" one asked. "Yes" I said. "Denis Gunn?" he checked. I knew at this point that I didn't want to hear what he was going to tell me. "I'm afraid I have some very, very, very bad news for you". He stressed the third "very" and that confirmed my worst fears. At 7:56pm on Sunday 14th March 2004, my elder son, Richard, was killed in a road accident whilst responding to an emergency call. He was 29 years old and due to be married exactly seven weeks later.

Throughout the night the officers, one of whom was Richard's Chief Inspector and the other was to become our Family Liaison Officer, told me all they knew about the accident but it wasn't easy to listen to, nor take in, so I don't remember all that was said, though I shall never forget the words spoken at the door. I do recall, however, that after quite some time the officers asked us if we'd like to be alone and I almost snapped at them "No, please stay" for I somehow felt that all the time they were there I wouldn't have to deal with the awful reality of it all. My working life had been spent in Information Technology, regularly resolving one problem or another so I spent the entire night trying to work out circumstances in which the events of the previous evening could be changed to produce a different result, but clearly that wasn't possible.

Some hours later when the officers did leave I immediately turned to my wife Carol (Richard's step-mother) and asked "How on earth are we going to get by now?" for I just couldn't anticipate life without Richard. He was, in my opinion, a key member of our family and a wonderful son. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts and ever since he was a young lad he'd wanted to be a police officer. He used to talk of possibly going back to the States to join up and although I never discouraged him I always hoped he wouldn't do so, for it was "dangerous" over there as a lot of American police are killed through gun crime. Instead, in March 1998, he joined Surrey Police and I was just so proud of him…..and I always shall be. I clearly remember his passing out parade after which I took one of the first photographs of Richard in uniform and when our F.L.O. asked for a photo' of him it was this one I gave him. I did so without thinking why he'd want it but within days it was published everywhere, in local and national newspapers and it also appeared on the BBC News website. For several days I didn't turn on the television for fear of seeing details of the accident. I wasn't sure that I even wanted to know where it had happened but, later, when my younger son James wanted to visit the site I knew I had to go with him. I have, since then, visited the scene regularly but, perhaps rather strangely, as the years have passed, I have found it more and more difficult to go back there and only do so now on the anniversary of the accident, on Richard's birthday in June and again at Christmas, a time of year that Richard loved and made so happy for the family.

Fortunately Surrey Police arranged Richard's funeral for I don't know how I could ever have done so. It was held at a packed Guildford Cathedral on a bright, sunny, spring day and somehow the sunshine and the daffodils in full bloom near the cathedral helped ease my pain. I have, subsequently, planted a mass of daffodils in my garden and every year, in mid-March, they put on a wonderful display and always lift my spirits.

In July that same year I attended my first COPS Survivors' Weekend. I didn't think about whether or not to go; I just knew I had to be there for Richard. I know I was still in shock, still traumatised, but that weekend proved to be the start of the healing process for me. I met some wonderful people there, all of whom had been through what I was then going through. I found that I was able to talk about Richard quite openly without people trying to change the subject. Even now my own family don't mention Richard in front of me for fear of upsetting me. Don't they know I want to talk about Richard? At that event I also met a lady whose son had been killed 18 years earlier and she told me that "It doesn't get any easier". That wasn't what I wanted to hear, though I knew it was true and now, seven years later, I can confirm that. Every day, without exception, I think of Richard. I regularly talk to him and sometimes I feel him with me. He was in many ways, more like a good friend than a son and I miss him terribly.

Constable Richard Gunn, Surrey Police - Died on 14th March 2004, aged 29 when his police car crashed while responding to an emergency call.

On the 23rd September 2005, my lovely husband PC2452 Andy Parker of North Wales Police was killed on his way home from work. I was a widow at 31. William was 4 years old, George 3 years old, and their daddy had gone.

That week, the cards and the letters and flowers flooded in. The postman was weighed down, and my Family Liaison Officer, Geraint, arrived each day with a fistful of mail which had been sent to Police Headquarters. A couple of days after Andy’s funeral, Geraint arrived on my doorstep, clutching yet more mail. I was sleep-deprived, nauseous, and in a total mental void. I didn’t care what went on, because for me the worst had already happened.

I was stood looking out of lounge window. I would stand and watch down the road for Andy’s bike to come home, and I was stood there, still convinced that I would spot him any minute.

“Kate, I’ve got some more cards for you here” said Geraint. I asked him to read them out to me; I was too shattered to even open them myself. The last card he opened was from Christine. Geraint read it out to me, and then he said “That’s lovely, they sound like really nice people who could help you out in the future”.

I turned round and looked at him. “What do you mean?” was my reply. “What are they writing to me for? It’s got nothing to do with me. A bunch of do-gooders in knitted cardigans giving group hugs? I don’t think so”.

I thought, who was this woman Christine to be writing to me about Andy?

She didn’t know us, or him. My loss had nothing to do with her. She had written about an annual family’s weekend in Staffordshire in July, but why would I want to go to that? I would never laugh again or smile, we would never be happy and would never enjoy anything again, and a weekend away was a ridiculous thing to suggest.

Time ticked on, each day feeling like a year. One night, about 2 o’clock in the morning, I was still awake so decided to rearrange some furniture in my bedroom. As I was heaving the chest of drawers across the room, Andy’s cufflinks box fell on the floor and out fell a badge. I pulled it out and it was a COPS pin. It all came back to me how Andy had bought it from a website, and I remember him telling me about it. That day I sent Christine an email. We struck up a correspondence and to my absolute surprise I found that she seemed to be alright really. Christine told me about the Lichfield weekend, and I thought that I would go, but mainly for the children’s sake.

At the Police Bravery Awards, a few weeks before COPS, I met my first COPS friends. Stood on the pavement at Downing Street, crying behind my massive sunglasses, I met Claire and Sue, and they told me they were going to Lichfield. So that was that, I was going too – but only for the sake of the children, it wouldn’t help me at all.

When I walked into the hotel on the Friday, I had no idea that I was about to meet the best people in the world. I was made so welcome and found myself opening up my broken heart to these wonderful people who could say “I know how you feel”, and they did.

Here I could cry without feeling silly, I could talk endlessly about Andy without people being uncomfortable with it. My little boys could talk about their Dad openly and they wouldn’t be the odd ones out here.

I didn’t want to leave them, but I had to, and on Sunday I left with my mobile full of new phone numbers and having made life-long friends.

In May 2007 I went out to America for Police Week with COPS. I had the time of my life. I have never laughed so much or cried so much. Wow, it was brilliant.

And now here I stand, another PC Parker in a North Wales Police uniform. When I first told my COPS friends that I was thinking of applying to be a Police Officer, I did not get the reaction I expected. These were the very people who should have shouted Stop Kate, no way! It is too dangerous. You might get shot, stabbed, run over; you might crash your police car or your own car coming home after a 12 hour night shift. Don’t do it.

What did they say? They said go for it, I think you’ll be a great Police Officer. They wanted to be kept informed about my application process and shared the bittersweet emotion when I was told that I would become PC2721 Parker exactly 2 years and 1 day after Andy’s death. When I passed my final exam during my initial training, the first cards and flowers I got were from COPS.

I have come a very long way these last few years. It has not been easy and even now there are tough times, when everything seems hopeless and the pain is so sharp again. I know I can always rely on Christine, Claire, Jill or Sue to listen to me – to my angry rant or my tearful sobs. They are always at the end of the phone.

With their love and support, COPS has helped us to carry on and start putting our lives back together. We will never get over what has happened to us, but I am so, so glad that I have become part of this wonderful family. I can only say this – grief is a rocky path to walk, we cannot walk it for you but we can walk it with you, as a true friend, every step of the way.

Constable Andy Parker, North Wales Police – Died on 23rd September 2005, aged 30 in a motorcycle crash while travelling home from night duty.

My husband James Hughes, or "Bud" to friends, was an incredible person to know. He was so full of life, and always had a mischievous glint in his eye. He loved the outdoors; cycling and running were just a few of his favourite pastimes.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck one evening. Whilst he was returning from duty, James's car left the road and he was killed. During the events of the evening, I was numb. The days following the accident are very difficult to describe. My emotions varied from anger to disbelief to devastation.

Fortunately, with the support of my parents, brother and friends, I survived. I still do not know to this day, how I managed to get through it, but I did.

After a short time, I made a conscious decision that I had to take care of myself. I had to pull myself together, figure out who I was, and take each day at a time.

I made a few radical changes to my life. I moved house and changed job. Then, fate played its part and I met John, who supported me, understood me, loved me, and swept me off my feet. Which is something I did not look for, and never thought could happen again.

We got married and now have two beautiful children. As a family unit we are complete, and are very happy. I feel very blessed and thankful each day for the happiness that I have.

I feel enriched as a person because of the past, and I now look upon each day as a new beginning. I can honestly say that I look forward to the future, whatever it may bring!

Constable James Hughes, Strathclyde Police – Died on 9 June 1996. He was returning home from his duty at Johnstone police office when his vehicle was involved in a collision.

On Saturday 20th March 1993, Bill and I attended the wedding of his best friend. Bill was on night shift, and unfortunately after a few hours we had to leave the celebrations, so that he could go to work.

My nightmare began at 1.30am with a knock on the door. Assuming it was Bill finished early, and having forgotten his keys (not for the first time), I opened the door to be confronted by four decidedly uncomfortable looking police officers. Still half asleep, I struggled to make sense of why they were there, somebody asked where the children were, Bill was mentioned, and the fact that there had been a fight, and that Bill was hurt.

Part of me recognised that things said did not add up, a million or more questions ran through my head, but having faith in those officers, I chose to ignore those feelings. The officers took me to hospital with me trying to comprehend why, if Bill was hurt were we going so slowly, and why oh why were we going the long route? With hindsight it was obvious; these officers were stalling for time, and unsure how to deal with the situation.

Eventually the events of the night unfolded. Bill had been stabbed to death whilst making an arrest. What a Mother's Day gift for myself and Bill's Mum!

Life changed beyond belief, some people were a great help, others, well what can I say ...?

Work were as good as they could be, but eventually it became impossible, especially with the trial looming. A guilty verdict helped a little as did the laying of the memorial stone, but I couldn't stay, I made a monumental decision to run away and start afresh 300 miles away.

Having moved, I met someone who gave me some hope of sunny peaceful days, but life had other plans for me. Sixteen months after we were married, I was faced with another funeral, and having to tell the children for a second time that someone close had died.

Within the year, two more funerals followed. I pleaded at my Nan's graveside, "no more" - I was at breaking point. In a new area, hardly knowing anyone, I turned to college and trained as a counsellor, eventually working for Relate, specialising in bereavement.

In the early days after Bill's death, someone once asked what does Gill Forth want? At that time I didn't have an answer. I now know that it was support and understanding, which I hope COPS will provide.

Sergeant William Forth, Northumbria Police - Died 21 March 1993, aged 34 beaten and fatally stabbed while dealing with a disturbance at night.

Many of you reading this letter will have experienced the aftermath of the death of an officer on duty. You know the utter disbelief, isolation, and devastation it brings. I would ask you however to spare a moment to consider the unique loss that parents suffer in such a situation.

They are the ones who nurtured the officer in the womb, endured the sleepless nights, the tears and the achievements of which we were all so proud, as we watched our child grow up. We saw them find their niche in society, shared their joy when they found a partner, and when children came along, and of course, we shared their great pride when they first donned the police uniform.

Then, the earth vanished from under us, and we found ourselves in a dark void, when they were taken from us. We may have had a partner to share this heartache, but this can work in different ways, and we don't always support each other in ways that we should, which can put a terrible strain on any relationship.

Our only son Lewis (28) was murdered in Glasgow as he bravely went to the aid of colleagues on 17th June 1994, just two hours before he was due to start his annual leave.

A superbly fit young man, 6ft 4in tall in his stocking soles, he was Scottish Police Lifesaving Champion for several years. Lewis always remained very close to us, and just a few years before his death, accompanied my husband and me on a fishing, walking and bird watching holiday in the highlands of Scotland.

Lewis was killed on Friday afternoon, and by the Sunday morning, I was in contact with my local MP George Foulkes, seeking his advice on getting better protective equipment for our police officers. I wrote to many people, including Prince Charles, the Prime Minister, and Donald Dewar, Scotland's First Minister. In all of this I had strong support from the then Chief Constable Leslie Sharp, and many other police officers.

Our police officers now have this enhanced protection, including body armour, incapacitant sprays, and modern batons. Even today, officers stop me in the street and thank me for my efforts in fighting for this equipment issue. Although emotional, it makes me proud to have done this for Lewis. He may be out of sight, but he is ever near.

To those of you who are new to this situation, I can tell you that you never forget. The pain never goes away. My advice is to find something that your son or daughter believed in, and go out there and fight for it. We owe that to our loved ones.

Constable Lewis Fulton, Strathclyde Police – Died on 17 June 1994 when he was stabbed as he and several other officers struggled with a man on a Glasgow street in the middle of a busy afternoon.

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