The son of a village postmaster was shot dead and his father seriously injured by a gang suspected of carrying out a string of raids on rural businesses.
Children were entering the primary school opposite the family store when three masked men burst in at 8.20am yesterday and shot Craig Hodson-Walker and his father, Ken.
Craig, 29, who worked seven days a week at his parents’ Fairfield Stores in the village of Fairfield, Worcestershire, was cradled by his mother, Judy, as he died from a gunshot wound in his chest. The prosperous farming community was trying to understand last night how inner-city violence had come to their backwater.
Police are investigating armed raids in the surrounding area in recent months and fear that an urban gang has been looking for easy targets. This is the first time that anyone has been shot.
Ian Crawford, 55, a motor trader who has lived in the village all his life, said that he visited the post office almost every day. The HodsonWalkers lived in a flat above.
“They are a lovely family and have worked really hard to make the store a success,” Mr Crawford said. “They opened the shop seven days a week. All the local businesses used the post office for their banking. It was the heart of the village.”
Residents described Fairfield as a typical English village. The post office, the Swan Inn, the school and church serve about 200 homes and the surrounding farms. Although just 20 miles away, it is a different world from Solihull where the VW Golf used by the armed raiders was stolen on New Year’s Eve. Close to the M5 and M42 motorways, Fairfield was easily accessible. The gang had changed the numberplates. On arrival in Fairfield, they put on their balaclavas and entered the shop carrying a pistol and sledgehammer. When the father and son resisted, the younger man was shot in the chest and his father in the leg. The gang’s car was found abandoned nearby.
Mrs Hodson-Walker ran to neighbours for help, according to Eddie Bretherton, 76, a villager. He added that Craig was engaged to be married. The family have another son, James, a married father of one, who is thought to live in Gloucestershire.
It was not the first time that the Hodson-Walkers had put up a fight. The two men are reported to have tackled two intruders at the post office in March 2004, throwing a bottle that hit one of the men and forced them to flee empty-handed in a stolen car.
Mark Todd, 65, said: “This post office has been attacked before. They tried to smash the door down with a hammer.”
The Hodson-Walkers moved to Fairfield after selling a business in the Forest of Dean five years ago. They were so successful that the family won an award before Christmas for being one of the three best performing post offices in the West Midlands.
Alice Raybould, 29, a close friend of Craig who lives across a field behind the shop, said he would have put up a fight to protect the business. “The minute he moved into the shop we made friends straight away,” she said. “He is, I should say he was, the nicest and kindest person I’ve known in my life.”
The father would normally man the shop, while his son and wife worked primarily in the post office. Asked if he would have put up a fight, Mrs Raybould said: “He loved his parents to bits. You protect whoever is there and I’m sure he would have done.”
Children had already begun to arrive at Fairfield First School when the raiders struck. Helen Hedar, the head teacher, said: “We had a few children who had arrived in the school when it happened. Everyone else was turned away.”
Horace Lynton, licensee at The Swan, said: “I wonder how safe I am. The robbers could easily have targeted the pub instead.” Pat Murphy, a BBC Radio 5 Live sports reporter who lives close to the post office, said: “It’s completely unprecedented — you’re used to hearing the sound of birdsong around here, and people choose to live here because it’s such a peaceful area."