Stourbridge stabbing tragedy: How a kind-hearted family paid the ultimate price for simply trying to help someone less fortunate
They were a kind hearted family who paid an appalling price for giving a young down-and-out a second chance in life.
Aaron Barley repaid their kindness by savagely stabbing to death Tracey Wilkinson – the 50-year-old he described as 'the mother I never had' – and her son Pierce, aged 13.
The 24-year-old loner also tried to kill Mrs Wilkinson's husband Peter, knifing the man who gave him a job six times while yelling 'die you *******.'
Barley left the 47-year-old grievously injured and stole the victim's Range Rover which he drove aimlessly around the area until colliding with a police car and careering into a wall just yards from where the carnage had started barely 30 minutes earlier.
He was arrested after a short foot chase but refused to take a blood test so it is not known if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time. The murder weapon was found in the wrecked car.
Barley struck on March 30 after hiding overnight in the garden of the family's home at Greyhound Lane, Stourbridge – where he had enjoyed Christmas Day lunch with the family just three months earlier.
He waited until Mr Wilkinson took Mandy, the family's rescued greyhound pet, for her usual early morning walk.
Then, dressed all in black, the drifter let himself into the house and crept upstairs to launch a frenzied knife attack on both Mrs Wilkinson and her schoolboy son before lying in wait by the back door through which he knew Mr Wilkinson would return.
Mr Wilkinson today recalled the horrific events of the day, which had started so normally.
He said: "I had done my normal thing of taking the dog out for a walk and when I got back looked in the window in the back door of the house.I remember thinking that everybody must have overslept because nobody was up.
"I opened the back door and, as I did so, he jumped from behind a wall in the kitchen with a big knife held over his head and started stabbing me with it.
"I grappled with him for a short period of time and he stabbed me six times, twice in the face, twice in the abdomen and twice in the back. I thought he was going to carry on stabbing me but then I heard my car being driven off. We have a gravel drive and the crunching sound is quite distinctive.
"By this time I think I was on the lawn and I went back into the kitchen to phone the emergency service, not thinking I was too badly injured.
"I turned round and saw this huge trail of blood behind me. It was my blood. I returned to the back garden, sat in a chair and realised I was actually dying while talking to the person on the other end of the phone. I could feel my lungs filling with fluid and energy draining from me.
"The next thing I remember was ambulances turning up and hearing a helicopter overheard. Then the police arrived.
"An ambulance man tending to me jabbed something into me which is probably what kept me alive. I told the other ambulance men to go into the house and vividly remember one coming out behind me and saying 'one deceased and one in cardiac arrest'.
"The comment was not addressed to me. There were more and more people arriving all the time. I knew at that point I had most likely lost Tracey and Pierce. I thought I was going to die.
"I was taken to the QE Hospital in Birmingham and remember being in the back of the ambulance, feeling every bump on the way. I remember being rushed in and a general anaesthetic being administered, then waking up whenever that was."
Meanwhile his 18-year-old daughter Lydia, due to return from Bristol University the following day to buy a ball dress with her mother, was unaware of the nightmare unfolding at home.
Now aged 19, she explained: "I first found out about the attack after my boyfriend rang me to check if my family were OK because an incident had happened and it was too close for comfort.
"I rang everybody but it was nothing out of the ordinary that they did not answer the phone. I typed the words 'Stourbridge stabbing' into Google. This was around 10.30am and I later discovered my mum and brother had already died by this point.
"The first link showed a photo of my house with police tape round it. I rang my boyfriend back and said 'It's me. They have been stabbed'.
"I then went to a friend's room and phoned the police. I asked if this was real or not. They said they would send officers to my university halls of residence.
"The police phoned me whilst I was out of the room and one of my friends answered the call. Because of this they checked the news and the first thing that showed up on BBC News was that the mother and son had passed away, so they all knew.
"The police told them not to tell me because they were not trained to do so. All of my friends knew that my mum and brother had died and they couldn't tell me.
"They cut off my internet connection and my phone was taken from me so I could not find out anything. Then West Midlands Police got to me and asked what I knew. I said that I knew my family had been stabbed and they said 'we are very sorry to tell you that your mum and brother have passed away. Your dad is in theatre and we do not know if he will survive'.
"I thought dad was going to pass away that night and spent my journey from Bristol to the hospital thinking how I was going to plan a triple funeral on my own.
"I did not find out my mum and brother had died until about 2pm and got to the hospital around three hours later.
"I was with police and other people when I spoke to the doctors. They took me to critical care where I saw my dad. He had countless machines hooked up to him, a lot of doctors around his bed and tubes coming out ever orifice.
"I remember thinking that I was going to lose him as well because nobody could survive in that state. I had been told to expect the worse.
"I knew there was nothing I could do to help my mum and Pierce as they had tragically passed away. My sole focus was my dad because he was all I had left in life.
"If I didn't have him I was going to be completely on my own and there was nothing I could do about it. So I stayed with him for a long time. The doctors said he was under heavy sedation and would not be coming round for a long time, so I sat there and held his hand.
"I told him I was there and he opened his eyes, looked at me and then went back into unconsciousness. I thought that was going to be the last time I saw my dad alive.
"But he woke up later on that evening, just after I had gone to my boyfriend's house where I stayed for a few weeks.
"I had just got to my boyfriend's when the hospital rang and said 'he is just coming round, you will have to come back'. So I raced back.
"He was still under heavy sedation but he knew that Pierce had passed away. I started to hope he would pull through.
"Before that there had been no hope and I had genuinely thought it was just me but from that moment I started to hope he would be OK. There were ups and downs over the next few days but I did not truly believe he was going to make it until the third or fourth day."
Unbeknown to Mr Wilkinson his daughter also undertook the dreadful task of formally identifying the bodies of her mother and brother.
She revealed: "He did not know that I had been back to the house and had identified the bodies. I went in and just stayed with my mum and brother for a while.
"I said I was sorry I could not protect them. I was with my liaison officers and my boyfriend and just stayed there because I knew it was going to be last time I saw them in my life.
"We couldn't tell my dad that until he was out of critical care and so from that point on it was a case me living every day for him. I would stay at the hospital for hours every day just to be with him."
Mrs Wilkinson made the fatal mistake of taking pity on Barley when she saw him in a cardboard box outside the Stourbridge branch of Tesco in March last year.
Her husband explained: "My wife was a very compassionate woman. She would not see harm done to anybody. She liked to help people and did a certain amount of voluntary work, helping old people. She was very chatty and made people feel at ease.
"She was shopping at Tesco in Stourbridge and came out to find Aaron was keeping warm in a cardboard box. She was taken aback by this and decided, off the cuff, that she wanted to help him.
"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. Things developed from there.
"Even though he was in a hostel he had no money and Tracey would organise breakfast and dinner for him every day, be it at our house or somewhere else.
"I talked to him on one of the evenings that he was having dinner with us and tried to get a feeling for what he felt and what he wanted from life.
"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.'
"As a result, maybe three or four weeks later, I actually employed him. After long consultation with my management team we decided we would like to help him. So I employed him at one of the businesses that I run at Newport in South Wales from April to September last year.
"In September 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 it was because of what he had been doing. He said he had started taking drugs because his mother had died. That subsequently turned out not to be true.
"We had seen a change but a change conversant with somebody who had been taking drugs, not a change in his general persona.
"He was living in Newport and was a good employee for most of that time. He was doing general labouring working on a busy yard where we wash, clean, load and unload crash barriers.
"He didn't keep in touch after he left the business. I believe he came back to Birmingham and we were not in contact with him for a period of time. I don't know if my wife was or not.
"Then in late October or early November I came back from walking the dog one morning to find him sleeping like a bundle in the corner of the drive. I got him up and made him some tea.
"I believe he had been on the streets and had been badly beaten. He was covered in bruises and my wife, being the compassionate soul she was, decided that, as a family, we should help him again.
"We did this in a similar vein to what we had done previously. We managed to get accommodation for him and paid for some for him.
"My wife would not see him back on the streets, so over the next couple of weeks managed to get council accommodation sorted.
"He would do general jobs for us and other members of my family to earn pocket money for food and cigarettes and was genuinely very grateful.
"From that point onwards through to Christmas he got some part time or cash in hand work. He spent Christmas Day with us and had Christmas lunch with us.
"He wrote my wife a card that read 'to the mother than I never had.' She was very caring. He treated her a bit like a second mother.
"In January he got some full time work and a new flat. We were very happy for him. We still saw him. He would come for dinner once or twice a week.
"In early March he came round one night. I bought a curry and shared it and a couple of bottles of beer with him. I dropped him off at his flat in Brierley Hill that night. That was it for about three weeks and the next time I saw him he was sticking a knife into me. I wish I had never met Aaron and my wife had never set eyes on him.
"After he started to stab me I said 'Aaron, we tried to help you’ and he stuck the knife into my stomach and said 'die you b******.' That was all he said.
"There is no motive, no explanation. My own personal feeling is that he lost his job, lost his flat and decided, because his life was going in a bad way, he was going to take it out on the people who cared for him. His parents died when he was young.
"I believe once he decided he wanted to strike out at those who had been kind and helpful to him, our family were the obvious target - but that is pure conjecture."
Mr Wilkinson was in hospital for 11 days before being discharged to continue his recovery at the home of his mother.
He said: "I am OK now. I had a lot of wounds and stitches but physical scars will heal. The mental scars never will.
"Lydia has been my absolute rock and is everything to me. Her fortitude, strength and love for me is beyond belief.
"We do lots and lots of things together. We always did. We were a very closed knit family and are still a very close knit family with two instead of four."
After the court appearance Peter Wilkinson paid tribute to his wife, saying: "Tracey was a beautiful woman inside and out, she was so elegant and stylish and loved her family. She was also very compassionate which led to her caring for others. When she found Aaron sleeping rough outside a supermarket she wanted to help.
"We gave Aaron help, we invited him into our home for meals, found him accommodation and a job and he saw Tracey as a mother-figure. Until this happened, I never considered him dangerous and any threat.
"He shared Christmas Day with us and sent Tracey a card ‘to the mother I never had.’"
Lydia added: "We were a very close family. My mum and Pierce had an iconic mother and son relationship - they did everything together and were very close. Mum was beautiful and kind and Pierce was the best younger brother you could wish for; he was funny, clever and handsome and even when I went to uni, we spoke most days.
"This has left a massive void in my life.
"Originally I thought I’d lost my whole family, I’m so grateful to still have my dad. Through this horrific crime we have seen the worst and best of human nature. It has shown us how many people really genuinely care and support us."
Leader of multi-million pound West Midlands drugs ring to pay back less than half of ill-gotten gains