There are few people in this world who would open up their home and their family to a stranger in an act of kindness and generosity when seeing a fellow human being in need. 50-year-old Tracey Wilkinson was one of those people. When she saw 23-year-old Aaron Barley sleeping rough in a cardboard box outside her local supermarket in Stourbridge, West Midlands, England in September 2016 she drove him to her home and gave him a hot meal. Her husband, Peter Wilkinson a successful local businessman, supported his wife’s generosity and over the following months the family helped Barley secure accommodation and Peter Wilkinson gave him a job at his company for a chance to rebuild his life, earn a living and support himself.
Aaron Barley spent Christmas with the Wilkinson family that year, including their 13-year-old son Pierce. He appeared grateful and appreciative of how the family had selflessly helped him when so few others would.
The tragic ending to this story is haunting and devastating. In March 2017, for no reasons police or prosecutors have ever been able to determine, Aaron Barley attacked this family killing Tracey and Pierce Wilkinson with appalling violence and almost taking the life of Peter Wilkinson. In October this year, Barley was jailed for at least 30 years after pleading guilty to double murder at Birmingham Crown Court with High Court judge Mrs. Justice Carr telling Barley he had carried out “a vicious and unprovoked attack.”
“You abused your knowledge of the family home, which you had only gained through the Wilkinsons’ extraordinary kindness and generosity to you.”
At an appeal in London this month, three judges agreed that his sentence for the horrific attack was “unduly lenient” increasing his sentence to a minimum of 35 years behind bars, the Independent reports. “The brutality of the stabbings and the terror which the victims must have felt were very grave aggravating features,” said Lord Justice Holroyde.
On 30 March 2017, Aaron Barley dressed himself all in black including gloves and balaclava and lay in wait outside the Wilkinson’s family home which he can become so familiar with. When he saw Peter Wilkinson leave the house to take the dog for a walk, he entered the home through an unlocked door at the back of the house. He stabbed Tracey Wilkinson 18 times with two kitchen knives he picked up as he walked through the home. Pierce Wilkinson was stabbed 8 times with brutal force. Both were murdered inside their bedrooms and it is unknown which Barley attacked first. After the murders, Barley returned to the back garden of the home and waited in the shadows for Peter Wilkinson to return. When he did, Barley pounced and stabbed him six times, leaving him with very serious injuries in which he was lucky to survive. Aaron Barley escaped the area in the Wilkinson’s own car and was arrested soon after when Peter Wilkinson was able to identify him as his attacker.
The Wilkinson’s 19-year-old daughter Lydia was not in the house that night being away at Bristol University. She told BBC News she heard of a stabbing incident in her hometown and when she Googled it she was presented with an image her own family home on the screen in front of her. She called the police who arrived and informed her of the full horrific details and she raced to her father’s bedside at the hospital, not knowing whether he would survive. “My sole focus at that moment in time was my dad, because he was the only thing I had left in life,” she said.
Peter Wilkinson did survive but when he woke up in the hospital was told the shattering news that his wife and son were dead at the hands of the man they had only ever tried to help.
Aaron Barley has refused to cooperate with police and has shown no remorse for his actions. According to the BBC News, Barley lost both his parents when he was 6-years-old and his parents were related, they were uncle and niece. Multiple care homes and foster homes followed with a behavioural pattern emerging of an angry child who could be charming but also aggressive, often switching between the two rapidly. At the same time, he was being helped by the Wilkinson’s, he was attending a substance misuse centre where the BBC reports he had told people he wanted to “kill someone with a knife.”
Aaron Barley had a problem with drugs, but he was given numerous chances for help and to rebuild his life. Both the job he was given by Peter Wilkinson and a job after as a furniture polisher, he lost through non-attendance and drug taking. The accommodation the Wilkinson’s helped him to obtain he was evicted from with reports of aggressive behaviour contributing to the cause of his eviction. The Guardian reports Barley refused to allow toxicology tests after the murders, so it is unknown whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the attacks. He was psychiatrically assessed with no findings that could support a mental health issue which may have influenced his behaviour. Aaron Barley had a long criminal history of 21 previous convictions including burglary and assault on an ex-partner.
The Wilkinson family cut off the mobile phone contract they had provided for Barley just one week before the attack, the only thing Mr. Wilkinson can think of that may have prompted his anger against them.
Aaron Barley has shown himself to be an unstable violent individual who is able to turn on people with savage consequences. Lydia Wilkinson bravely faced him in court and told him, “You have obliterated my life, murdered half my family, very nearly all of it, and for this I will never forgive you.”