Inquest into hero policeman killed in flood

An inquest into the death of a hero policeman killed in Cumbria's floods will begin today.

Pc Bill Barker, 44, was directing traffic off the Northside Bridge in Workington when it collapsed beneath him at around 4.40am on November 20 last year.

The father-of-four plunged into the swollen River Derwent, raging with flood waters below.

His body was found the next day on a beach in nearby Allonby.

Tributes poured in for the officer, who joined the police to "make a difference". He served with the Cumbria force for 25 years on traffic duty and as a family liaison officer, helping people who had lost loved ones in road accidents.

Jerry Graham, assistant chief constable of Cumbria Police, said Pc Barker, from Egremont, was "saving lives" when he died and the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, described him as a "very heroic, very brave man".

His wife Hazel said: "Bill was my best friend, my forever friend, and an amazing dad.

"I have the comfort of knowing that Bill died doing the job he loved, and the fact that he was helping others is just typical Bill."

The couple had four children, Simon, 16, Melissa, 15, Daniel, 13, and seven-year-old Emma.

He died the day before the family were to celebrate his 45th birthday.

More than 12,000 tributes were left on a special Facebook page in his memory.

The tragedy came as "biblical" floods devastated large parts of Cumbria, with bridges destroyed, roads closed and hundreds of people forced to flee their homes for higher ground.

The downpour was the highest level of rainfall measured in England since records began, forecasters said, with 314mm - more than a foot of rain - falling in 24 hours.

More than 1,300 homes were affected by the flooding, with shops, businesses and farmland also swamped.

After the incident Cumbria County Council said the Northside Bridge, which carries road traffic between the south and north side of Workington, was inspected in July 2008 and found to be "structurally sound".

David Roberts, Coroner for North and West Cumbria, will hold the inquest before a jury.

It is scheduled to last three days at Cleator Moor Civic Hall.