'I gave sanctuary to homeless man living in a box outside Tesco - a year later, he murdered my wife and son'
Peter and Tracey Wilkinson did all they could to help homeless Aaron Barley - providing him with food, shelter and even a job in the year before he launched a deadly knife attack on their family.
After the 24-year-old pleaded guilty to murdering Mrs Wilkinson and her 13-year-old son Pierce at their Stourbridge home, Mr Wilkinson has told how they offered Barley sanctuary when his wife found him shivering and begging outside her local Tesco.
Explaining how his wife met Barley outside the supermarket in March last year, Mr Wilkinson said her efforts to help him were typical of her kind nature, which also saw her volunteer to help the elderly.
Mr Wilkinson, 47, was also attacked along with his daughter Lydia. He managed to phone the emergency services after being stabbed six times and spent 11 days in hospital recovering from his wounds.
In his own words, Peter Wilkinson describes his family's ordeal
“My wife was a very compassionate woman. She wouldn’t see harm come to anybody, she liked to help people.
“She did a certain amount of voluntary work helping old people. She was very chatty and made people feel at ease."
On how his wife first encountered her killer
"She was shopping one day at Tesco in Stourbridge and she came out and Aaron was keeping warm in a cardboard box and she was taken aback by this, and decided off-the-cuff that she wanted to help him.
“So she took him in her car to Dudley Council to get help and from that point he lived in a hostel for a few days, organised by my wife. That was in March 2016.
“Things developed from there. Even though he was in a hostel, he had no money and food, so Tracey would organise breakfast and dinner for him every day, be it at our house or somewhere else.
“I remember after that talking to him one of the evenings when he was at dinner with us.
“I just tried to get a feeling of what he felt and what he wanted in life. And I can remember quite vividly him saying to me ‘I just need somebody to give me a chance, I need somebody to give me a lucky break’.
“After that - maybe three or four weeks later - I actually employed him. After long consultation with my management team, we decided that we would like to help him, so I employed him at one of the businesses that I run down in Newport in south Wales."
How Aaron Barley 'went off the rails' after taking drugs
“In September 2016 he went off the rails. He started taking drugs and as a business we had to let him go. It was very amicable. He knew that that was the case because of what he’d been doing.
“He actually said at the time that he had started taking drugs because his mother had died, which was subsequently found to be untrue.”
Asked if he had noticed a change in Barley’s personality during that time, Mr Wilkinson added: “I would say we had seen a change but a change conversant with something that you might expect to see if somebody had been taking drugs - not a change in his general persona."
Finding him 'asleep like a bundle on the drive'
"I remember in late October or early November coming back from walking the dog one of the mornings and finding him asleep like a bundle in the corner of the drive.
“I got him up and made him some tea. I believe he’d been on the streets and had been badly beaten. He was covered in bruises and my wife being the compassionate soul that she was, decided that as a family we should help him again.
“In a similar vein to what we had done last time, we managed to get accommodation for him. We paid for some accommodation ourselves for him.
“My wife wouldn’t see him back on the streets so over the next couple of weeks we managed to get council accommodation sorted.
“And he would do general jobs for us, for other members of my family as well, in order to earn some pocket money for food and cigarettes. And he was generally very grateful.
Spending Christmas Day with the killer
“From that point onwards, I think through ’til Christmas he’d got some part-time work or some cash-in-hand work. And then at Christmas last year he spent Christmas Day with us.
“He had Christmas lunch with us. I remember he wrote my wife a card saying ‘To the mother that I never had’. My wife was very caring and he treated her a bit like a second mother."
'We shared a curry... next time I saw him he was stabbing me'
“He then, in January, got some full-time work. He’d got a new flat. We were very happy for him. We still saw him then once or twice a week - he would come for dinner.
“And then in early March, he came round one night - the last time I saw him. I bought a curry and I shared a curry and a couple of bottles of beer with him. I dropped him off back at his flat in Brierley Hill that night.
"And that was it for about three weeks - the next time I saw him he was sticking a knife into my shoulder.”
The attacks: He was dressed in black, with a big knife above his head
Asked what he could remember of the attack upon him, Mr Wilkinson said: “I did my normal thing of going out to take the dog for a walk.
"I came back and I can remember looking through the window at the back door of the house, thinking that everybody must have overslept because nobody was up.
“I opened the back door and as I did it, he jumped out from behind a wall in the kitchen, all dressed in black, with a big knife held over his head and started stabbing me with it.
“From that point I grappled with him for a short period of time and he stabbed me six times - he stabbed me twice in the face, twice in the abdomen and twice in the back.
“I thought he was going to carry on stabbing me, but I then heard my car going off the drive - we have got a gravel drive and the crunch of the car going off it was quite distinctive.
“I got up, I think I was on the lawn at this time. I got up, went into the kitchen and phoned the emergency services, at the time not thinking I was too badly injured."
'I was actually dying... I could feel energy draining from me'
“Then I remember looking around and seeing this huge trail of blood across the floor, which was my blood. I then went back out into the back garden, sat in a chair and I remember talking to the person on the other end of the phone and realising that I was actually dying.
"I could feel my lungs filling with fluid and I could feel energy draining from me.
“The next thing I remember is ambulances turning up and I can remember hearing helicopters overhead and the police arrived.
“An ambulance man tended to me immediately. I remember him jabbing something into me, which is probably what kept me alive.
“I also remember telling the other ambulance men to go into the house. I remember vividly one coming out behind me and saying ‘one deceased and one in cardiac arrest’. I knew at that point that I had most likely lost Tracey and Pierce. Then I was taken to the QE.”
Asked to describe his feelings at that time, Mr Wilkinson said: “I thought I was going to die at that stage. I remember being in the back of the ambulance on the way to hospital. I could feel every bump. I remember getting to the QE and being rushed in and then general anaesthetic being administered and waking up whenever I woke up.”
Wife was 'a beautiful woman with a heart of gold'
Paying his own tributes, Mr Wilkinson said: “My wife was a beautiful woman with a heart of gold. She was stylish, she was elegant. She was very compassionate.
“She cared for others and it’s just so tragic that after trying to help people and to help Aaron, that he should turn on us in this way for no apparent reason.”
On the murderer: 'I wish my wife had never set eyes on him'
Asked to comment on his feelings towards Barley, Mr Wilkinson added: “I wish we had never met him - I wish my wife had never set eyes on him.”
Commenting on his physical condition now, he added: “I was in hospital for 11 nights. I’m ok. I had a lot of wounds and stitches but the physical scars will heal, the mental scars never will.
“Lydia has been my absolute rock. She’s everything to me. We do lots and lots of things together, we always have done. We are a very close family.
“We are still a very close family but we are two people instead of four. Lydia’s fortitude and strength and her love for me is beyond belief.”
'He said ‘die you b------’ as he stuck the knife into me'
Asked if Barley said anything during the attack, Mr Wilkinson replied: “He said ‘die you b------’ as he stuck the knife into me. I said to him, after he’d stabbed me, ‘Aaron we tried to help you’ and he stuck the knife into my stomach and said ‘die you b------’.”
Explaining that Barley was thought to have given no explanation at all for the attack to police, Mr Wilkinson added: “There’s no motive, there is no explanation. My personal feeling - and this is purely my personal feeling - is that he’d lost his job, he lost his flat.
“And he decided that because his life was going bad ways he was going to take it out on the people that had cared and looked after him. His parents died when he was young.”
'We have to move on': Family return home to scene of attack
Confirming that he had now moved back into the family home where the attack happened, Mr Wilkinson said: “We live there now, it’s our home. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life.
“It’s our home and, after taking so much from us, we couldn't possibly have it that he would take anything else. We love the house, we love the place.
"It was very much a family home that we had built and renovated ourselves and we like being there."
'The support has been immense from all quarters'
Praising the support received by the family, Mr Wilkinson said: “The support has been immense from all quarters. From the police, from family, from friends, from people we had never even met before and from West Brom.
"It’s actually the thing that brings a real tear to the eye when you look at the amount of support we have had and people's ongoing help and assistance for myself and Lydia. There is an immense amount of good out there and that shines through in situations like this.”
Mr Wilkinson added of his late wife: “She was fantastic dancer. She was a British Latin American champion in her 20s. I played football and we had an agreement that if she learnt to play football I would learn to dance! But it never happened.”