Written by M.W. CRAVEN

Black Summer
takes place over the course of two weeks as Cumbria prepares for a once-in-a-generation storm and sees the National Crime Agency’s Detective Sergeant Washington Poe and civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, go up against former-celebrity chef/current-psychopath, Jared Keaton. Poe had put him away for the no-body murder of his daughter six years earlier but she’s just walked into an isolated Cumbrian police station. Over the next fourteen days Poe and Tilly try to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time . . .? It’s a bit of fun, a bit of escapism, and I hope readers find it an entertaining enough distraction for a few hours.

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. Instead I’d like to take you back to 2nd June 2010, a day that started a very real black summer for the people of Cumbria and left a deep-seated scar on the zeitgeist of the prettiest county in England. It was early in the morning and the spree killer Derek Bird was about to start terrorising West Cumbria . . .

It was a hot and balmy day. That’s what I remember now. Azure-blue sky, corn-yellow sun. Still and peaceful. The type of day that made me realise why I lived in such a rural part of the country. I was working from Lime House (colloquially known as ‘Slime’), the Grade-II listed building in the picture-perfect village of Wetheral, that Cumbria Probation used as their headquarters building. At that time I was the assistant chief officer (operations) and through a quirk of fate happened to be the most senior manager at work that day (the chief officer was working from home but proved to be un-contactable – and believe me, I tried).

It was my public protection manager, a senior probation officer I’d seconded to the police public protection unit, who first called and said something was happening in Whitehaven, an ex-mining and fishing town in West Cumbria.

He rang my direct line at about 11 a.m. and said, ‘Mike, can you tell everyone in the Whitehaven office to stay inside; someone’s running around Whitehaven shooting at people.’

‘What with?’ I said.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Probably an air rifle.’

What my manager didn't know, what no one knew, was that by then Derek Bird, an angry man with a persecution complex, had already shot and killed his brother and the family solicitor, and had driven into Whitehaven and killed a taxi driver he’d been in conflict with. Armed with a shotgun and .22 rifle, he was now on a murderous rampage across West Cumbria, a rampage that would end with twelve people dead (the last nine unknown to him), eleven people injured and Bird’s eventual suicide.

Before I could call the Whitehaven office, I received another call, this time from a colleague in Carlisle who was married to a serving police officer. She said people had been killed and the perpetrator still hadn't been apprehended. It quickly became apparent that instead of a drunk with an air rifle, we were in the middle of an unfolding major incident.

I called the Whitehaven Office immediately and told them to bring everyone inside – staff, offenders, partnership workers, offenders’ families –and to lock the outside doors. They were then to close all windows and blinds, lock the internal doors and get everyone under desks. With no idea where Bird was at this point, I called the nearby Workington office and told them to do the same.

For two hours, staff and offenders stayed under the desks in the Whitehaven and Workington offices. I can’t imagine what it must have been like even though I was in near constant contact with them. Stories like this weren't unique to the probation service, they were playing out all across West Cumbria as individuals and families, towns and villages, businesses and organisations went into lockdown.

It wasn’t until 12:36 p.m., almost two hours after he’d shot and killed the taxi driver in Whitehaven town centre, that Bird was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Oak How Wood near Boot, and the all-clear could be given.


I retain vivid memories of that day and the ones that followed. Phone calls from frantic staff in the north and south of the county wanting to know what was happening to their friends and colleagues ‘out west’. A senior Ministry of Justice official calling, not to see if we were OK, but to check whether Bird was on probation or not. My panicked chief officer, who’d missed the entire incident, trying to get caught up on what had happened and what actions I’d taken.

And I remember Kevin Commons, Bird’s family solicitor and the second person he killed that day. A regular at Workington Magistrates’ Court, we knew and liked each other. Our court duty officers used to challenge him to fit obscure words into his closing arguments and he always managed to do it. I remember hearing that the aunt of one of my probation officers was one of the eleven Bird had shot and wounded, and I remember her conflicted look the day after, glad that her aunt had survived, guilty that twelve others hadn't.

During my sixteen years with the probation service I experienced some awful things. I heard a housing association handyman casually describe how he’d filmed himself raping a tenant’s baby and I read the transcripts of a man who’d murdered, then desecrated the corpse of his elderly victim. I spoke to a man who’d carved his name into his ex-partner’s chest and I told offenders they’d be dead in six months if they kept up their current lifestyle, only for them to die in three. These are the memories I keep locked away. The ones I don’t want to remember, don’t want to dwell on.

And sometimes, unbidden, I remember the 2nd June 2010 and I grow melancholic. For years, whenever this happened, I would try to put Derek Bird out of my mind, felt that he wasn’t someone who deserved my time. That the best way to honour the victims is to forget about the man who killed them.

I’d try not think about the 2nd June at all.

But then I remember the repeated calls from a hysterical probation officer in the Whitehaven office, crying from underneath her desk, begging me for permission to leave the office so she could go to her daughter who was at home, ill and terrified, and I’m reminded that some memories will never leave us.

Nor are they supposed to.

Black Summer (Washington Poe Book 2)

Constable (20 Jun. 2019) Hbk

Read SHOTS’ Review HERE

'Dark, sharp and compelling'  - PETER JAMES

'Fantastic' - MARTINA COLE

'Britain's answer to Harry Bosch' - MATT HILTON

'Gripping. Taunt. Twisty' - IMRAN MAHMOOD

M W Craven

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