Paul Vallely: Bill and Sally were quiet heroes

23 April 2019

Paul Vallely recalls a couple who were good neighbours and dedicated public servants. The couple died in the Sri Lanka bombings, on Sunday

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Bill Harrop and Sally Bradley

Bill Harrop and Sally Bradley

BILL and Sally were good neighbours. Not just the kind who put the bins out while you were away and took in parcels, but the kind who came round with some delicacy that they had picked up on their latest foreign holiday — or a bottle of wine to cheer you up after a poor performance by United. They would, of course, stay to share the wine or the delectable dainty.

Or they would invite you round to their place for a meal created by Bill — a good cook — from the ingredients that they had brought back from their latest adventure abroad. They were great travellers. Their holiday snaps were genuinely interesting: Sally perilously white-water rafting, Bill wrestling with some indescribable giant foreign fish; or wedding photos from the day that they got married on an exotic beach with passers-by as witnesses.

One day, there was a knock on the door. It was Bill, carrying a white fireman’s helmet. They’d given him a smart new one at work, and he thought that our boy might like the old one for show-and-tell at school. It wasn’t just a standard red helmet, but the white one of a fire chief.

It was only then that we googled Bill and found that he had been decorated after the 1996 IRA bombing in Manchester, in which 212 people were wounded. Bill had led his men in a desperate search for a second device in the rubble of the biggest terrorist device ever to explode on British soil. The chap next door was a hero, as it turned out.

Sally had a dedicated life of public service, too. She said that she was a doctor. But it emerged that she was the Director of Medical Health for Manchester, and later ran a hospital in Oldham before moving out to Australia, after Bill took early firefighter retirement, to run hospitals there, too.

But, to us, they were just kind, friendly, generous next-door neighbours, who were great fun. They played as hard as they worked. Sally was always out jogging. Bill was also keen on outdoor pursuits. And they entertained as well as they did everything else. There was often one bottle of wine too many, but the doctor was never censorious. She was unconditional in her love for Bill’s two teenage sons.

One of them, Gavin, now a young man, went out last week to Sri Lanka for a few days’ holiday with his dad. Then, on Friday, Sally flew out from Perth to join Bill, who had booked a room in one of Colombo’s luxury hotels for a couple of nights before they set off touring. Sally loved roughing-it holidays, but she liked posh hotels and lovely things, too.

They recently bought a cottage in the Cotswolds, in which they intended to retire. By sheer coincidence, we were in a hotel ourselves, in that part of the world, for the Easter weekend. At 9 a.m. on Sunday, we were enjoying a good hotel breakfast before leaving for Easter-morning mass. At the same time, Bill and Sally were, we imagine, eating theirs in the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. Then, the suicide bomber walked in.

Bill Harrop and Sally Bradley. May they rest in peace.

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