The spouses of police officers killed or seriously injured in the line of duty need “buddies” to help them through the trauma, Lissie Harper and a fellow widow who supported her have said.
Samantha Dixon, 37, who lost her police officer husband James in a collision while on duty, supported Ms Harper through every day of the trial of her police husband’s killers at the Old Bailey.
The two women are now close friends and believe the way they supported each other provides a model for dealing with the trauma and pressures that the partner of sergeant Matt Ratana will now face after his murder by a shotgun killer in Croydon in the early hours of Friday.
Speaking on the eve of Sunday's National Police Memorial Day, Ms Harper said: “Sam supported me through the court case of Andrew's killers, giving me comfort and strength at a time when grief is raw and unyielding.
“Sam could give me the answers that no one else could and although I have had a tribe of support, the bond that we share in knowing the pain of losing a life partner is something that will bind us together forever.”
Ms Dixon, herself a police officer whose son Parker was born after her husband’s death, said no-one could truly appreciate the trauma and pressures of being widowed after a violent act in the line of duty.
Her husband was like Andrew Harper a Thames Valley police officer and she learned of his death through the police computer while she was on shift.
She had been the family liaison officer to the wife of Gareth Browning, a Thames Valley officer who died after being struck by the driver of a stolen car. But nothing prepared her for the moment and aftermath of her husband’s death.
“We should try and form almost a buddy system with a police family that has lived and breathed those early days,” she said.
“Losing a loved one in any circumstances is horrific. When they are a serving police officer at the same time, it adds another layer because you have additional press interest and then the decision of whether to have a full police funeral, and, if so, how big.
“A very private matter almost becomes a very public one. You can keep it private but the pressure is difficult when you are grieving and trying to do right by your loved one.
“Unless you have been a widow at a large scale police funeral and all the emotions that come with it, you can’t describe how that feels because there are no words. To have someone who has been through it strengthens your resolve and can only be comforting.”
Ms Dixon reached out to Ms Harper after Andrew was dragged to his death by his three killers as they made a getaway from a burglary.
At the end of the trial, she stood by her side as Ms Harper spoke of her “utter shock” and “disappointment” at the verdict.
Ms Dixon would have completed the statement if the emotion of the moment had prevented Ms Harper from doing so - and will on Sunday share National Police Memorial Day with Ms Harper who is lighting a candle in memory of Andrew.
“I can be in crowded room with people I know and love but I still feel very alone. I am further forward than Lissie but I know that when I am in a room with her, I feel less lonely because I know she knows how I feel,” said Ms Dixon.
She has an added weight on her shoulders. She was pregnant when her husband was killed and her son, two year old Parker, is still too young to understand the truth.
“He knows who Daddy is. He sees his picture and there is a Twitter video of him point to Daddy, saying he is a police officer. But he is not old enough to understand about death. For Parker there is not a gap in his life because his Daddy has not been there.
“It will come in the next year that he will understand that other families have a mummy and daddy. When it does come I will be honest with him. I can’t really protect him. It is not a situation I can make better. I can only be honest so I hope it is an open conversation and I can be there for him.”