Aged 18, Lydia Beshenivsky is the spitting image of her late mother, murdered police officer Sharon.
Those who knew the 38-year-old constable before she was shot dead on her daughter’s fourth birthday say she laughs like her as well. She’d like to be a policewoman too, just like Mum — much to her father’s understandable horror.
‘They all say I’m just like her, but I don’t remember her at all,’ says Lydia.
‘I wish I did. There’s just a hole where she used to be and no memories to fill it. There’s literally nothing there. It’s become more of a heartache as I’ve grown up because, obviously, I want to know her. You think, ‘I wish I could do this with her or that with her.’ But you can’t. She’s gone.’
Lydia Beshenivsky (pictured) is murdered police officer Sharon Beshenivsky who was shot dead on her daughter’s fourth birthday
Lydia’s brother Paul Junior, 21, puts an arm around his sister as her pretty face crumples.
Two months ago, Lydia celebrated her 18th birthday. The same day she went to her mother’s police memorial in Bradford, as she does every year, to lay some flowers.
‘I’ve done it since I was 15,’ she says. ‘My birthday still gets celebrated, but thoughts of Mum are still there. You think, ‘why did she have to die on my birthday? Why did she have to die at all? Why are there such sick people out there?’ She’s not just referring to the gang who shot her mother dead as she responded to a robbery at a travel agent in Bradford in 2005.
‘About a week before my 18th birthday, I started getting messages on social media from a lot of Asians who were all related,’ she says. ‘They were saying, ‘I know who your mum is. My cousin killed her.’
Lydia sent the messages to her mother’s colleague, PC Teresa Milburn, who was also shot on that terrible day but survived to give evidence at a trial a year later. Lydia hasn’t heard from the despicable trolls since. This is a particularly difficult time for PC Beshenivsky’s children.
On January 14, the man accused of being the gang’s mastermind, Piran Ditta Khan, 71, was finally arrested in Islamabad, Pakistan, after a 15-year manhunt. He is the seventh suspect to be charged in connection with Sharon’s murder.
He appeared in court in Islamabad last week where his extradition was discussed. He will remain in custody until another hearing on Wednesday.
You only need to spend five minutes with Lydia’s father Paul to know he’d far sooner see him tried in the country to which he fled, where justice demands an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. ‘It would be better to see him in a Pakistani prison where he wouldn’t get treated as well as he would over here,’ Paul says.
A file photo shows an image of Sharon Beshenivsky. On January 14, the man accused of being the gang’s mastermind, Piran Ditta Khan, 71, was finally arrested in Islamabad, Pakistan, after a 15-year manhunt. He is the seventh suspect to be charged in connection with Sharon’s murder
Paul Beshenivsky, Sharon’s widower (2R) is pictured with his wife Michelle (right), son Paul (left) and daughter Lydia
Indeed, such is the leniency in Britain that most of the armed gang involved in PC Beshenivsky’s murder were released before her children reached the adulthood. ‘One got eight years but didn’t even do four. One got 20 and was out in ten. It’s when you get that call telling you one of them is just being released that you think to yourself, ‘really?’ he adds.
Paul, 57, was told 24 hours before Khan’s arrest was made public that he had been caught.
‘Bradford police rang on January 14 saying they’d got somebody and were 99 per cent sure it’s him.’
It is the fourth time since his wife’s death that he has had his hopes raised. In December 2006, police thought they had pinned him down, but when they got there someone had spirited him away. Paul adds: ‘Three years afterwards they had another lead but nothing came of it. The last time must have been about 18 months ago.
‘When they rang this time and confirmed it was him you feel . . .’ Paul’s face reddens as emotion overwhelms him. ‘You just hope this will bring closure,’ he says. PC Beshenivsky was just nine months into her job when she was shot dead while responding to an armed robbery on the afternoon of Lydia’s fourth birthday.
She had wrapped her daughter’s presents, baked the cake and was nearing the end of her shift when she answered the call to go a travel agent, where an attack alarm had been activated. Her last words to her husband were, ‘make sure you’re home early’. He was — but she never returned to the Yorkshire moors farm where they raised their children.
Such was the horror of that day that neither Lydia nor Paul Jr can remember life before it.
‘Everything is a kind of blur,’ says Paul Jr, who was seven at the time.
Queen Elizabeth II is presented with flowers by Lydia Beshenivsky, the daughter of murdered WPC Sharon Beshenivsky, during her visit to Bradford on May 25, 2007
‘I look at photos and remember some things but, apart from the them, there’s not much else.
‘I find that harder than anything, not being able to remember the past.’
He, like his father, prefers to ‘brush his sadness under the carpet’.
‘I know Dad doesn’t like speaking about it so it doesn’t get brought up between us,’ he says. ‘He knows I don’t like speaking about it either. But Lydia’s quite open about it.’
Khan was arrested on what would have been their mother’s 53rd birthday. ‘That was really strange’ says Lydia. ‘I didn’t know he’d been caught until Dad told me that night but when I was driving home from work [at a nearby livery stable] I sensed Mum was around me. I just went cold. It felt really weird, not frightening, just cold.
‘But his arrest doesn’t change anything. It hasn’t brought her back.
‘When I think about what she did and what she could have done . . . ‘ She pauses, then thrusts her chin in the air. ‘I’m applying to join the police to keep her name alive.’ This is the first time Lydia has spoken publicly about her wish to pursue the career that took her mother’s life. She told her father two years ago, shortly after West Yorkshire Police presented her with her mother’s badge number, 6410, on her 16th birthday.
He hoped it would be a passing fad, like the week she decided to go vegetarian, but it isn’t.
‘My heart sort of sank when she told me,’ says Paul. ‘Not because of what she wants to do but because of what’s happened.’
Paul Jr continues. ‘I’ve already lost one member of my family, I don’t want to lose another.
‘I was cross when she told me, but if that’s what she wants to do, it’s what she wants to do.’
He looks at his father and you sense this is a conversation they have shared many times.
Lydia Beshenivsky, five, the daughter of murdered WPC Sharon Beshenivsky waits to present flowers to the Queen in Bradford in 2005
WPC Theresa Milburn, who was shot in the attack that killed her colleague Sharon, leads the funeral procession in 2005
Forensic investigators are pictured at the scene of PC Beshenivsky’s murder in Bradford in 2005
A keen equestrian like her mother, Lydia achieved a distinction in her Level 2 Horse Care and Management diploma and is now completing Level 3.
Last summer she attended West Yorkshire Police’s Mounted Section in Wakefield for a week’s work experience and has now set her heart on joining them.
‘I worked as a groom for a week and it just opened my eyes. I thought, ‘I really want to do this.’ Now I can’t wait to get that uniform on,’ she says.
‘When I see photos of my mum I feel proud to say she was my mum because she looked after her community. Now I just want to follow in her footsteps.’
Sharon Beshenivsky’s widower Paul is pictured with their two children Paul Junior and Lydia in an undated photo
You can see why her dad worries. Paul would do anything to protect his children. He says telling them and their half-brother Samuel, 27 — Sharon’s son from a previous relationship — that their mother was not coming home was the hardest thing he has ever done. Paul says: ‘What I find bizarre is I’ve lost my mother and my father but when I see pictures of them I don’t feel sadness.
‘Yet, with Sharon, even when I talk about her now, I fill up. It’s 15 years on and it’s still raw.’
He wells up as he says this. ‘I don’t like speaking about it because I don’t want to promote sadness. I went to therapy after it happened.
‘This therapist must have been 25. I said to her: ‘Have you ever lost anybody in your life?’ She hadn’t. I said, ‘how can you sit there and tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing?’ That’s when our conversation ended.
‘She wrote her notes up and I got to read her report. She wrote, ‘mentally unstable’ and highlighted it.
This ‘spray and pray’ MAC-10 sub-machine gun was used at the scene of PC Beshenivsky’s murder
‘Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just the way I deal with things — brush it under the carpet. I think it’s because every time it’s brought up you go back to that moment and relive it. When I saw the police car at the top of the drive, I thought it was her coming home.
‘That was the start,’ he says. ‘The biggest thing that sticks in my mind is thinking how the hell I was going to explain it to them all. Obviously I had to do it. I couldn’t get someone else to do it, but I just didn’t know what to say or how they were going to react.’ The children screamed, shouted, sobbed. Lydia says she cried because her brother wept, Paul Jr because his father was in pieces and his dad because . . . well, who wouldn’t sob to hear a four-year-old girl asking her Daddy what it felt like to die.
‘We weren’t the easiest kids to control. I remember when you were little you were quite an angry child,’ Lydia says to her brother. ‘Dad bought him a big teddy. He used to tie it to the bed, destroy it, punch it — everything.’
Sharon Beshenivsky is pictured smiling in a black dress (left) while her colleague PC Theresa Milburn is seen (right) looking emotional on the day of her funeral after she survived the attack that killed her colleague
‘I can remember the day it happened like it was yesterday,’ says Paul Jr, who works with his father in his building and landscaping company. ‘I remember being picked up from school, going home. Dad telling me, Lydia and Sam what had happened.
‘I didn’t understand what with being so young. ‘What do you mean she’s not coming home?’ He said she was a star in heaven.
‘I’ve not cried for a long time until recently but I used to cry every night or at least every week. I was just missing her. It wasn’t where is she, but why? ‘Why her? Why can’t you be here now?’
‘It was hard,’ says their father, who admits he was probably over-protective over the years. ‘You want the best for your children but you can’t save them from that pain.I wanted to take them away from society because I didn’t like what society was doing. In reality I took them away from growing up in a sense because I put them in a little bubble and sort of kept them in it.
Piran Ditta Khan, 71, who was wanted by police in connection with the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky has been arrested in Pakistan
‘Certain things we laugh about now.’ Paul looks at his son.
‘He was in his teens when he went swimming with a couple of his mates . . . ‘
Both Lydia and Paul Jr, who are familiar with this story, laugh. ‘What were you, about 14? He didn’t know how to get home so he went to the local Morrisons and said, ‘I’m lost.’ They rang the police who rang me. When I spoke to him I said, ‘where are you?’ He said, ‘Morrisons’, as if there was only one in the whole country.’
Lydia looks at her father fondly. ‘He’s always been protective. I think it was for the best given what was going on. It felt safer at the farm.’
Police officers killed in their line of duty in Britain
PC Yvonne Fletcher, 25, was shot dead outside the Libyan Embassy in London on 17 April 1984.
PC Keith Blakelock, 40, was attacked with machetes during the Broadwater Farm riots in London in October 1985.
PC Ian Broadhurst, 34, shot dead in Leeds by David Bieber, wanted by FBI in American for two killings in the USA, on December 26 2003
PC Sharon Beshenivsky, 38,was shot dead by a gang during an armed robbery in Bradford on 18 November 2005.
PC Nicola Hughes, 23, and PC Fiona Bone, 32, were killed in a gun and grenade attack carried out by Dale Cregan during an armed robbery in Mottram on September 18 2012.
PC Phillippa Reynolds, 27, died in the passenger seat of her police car in Londonderry, when it was crashed into by a stolen car driven by two men on 9 February 2013.
PC David Phillips, 34, died after being run over by a stolen pick-up truck in Wallasey on 5 October 2015
PC Keith Palmer, 48, was stabbed to death by terrorist Khalid Masood while he was on-duty outside the Palace of Westminster on March 22 2017.
PC Andrew Harper, 28, was run over after he was called to a burglary in Berkshire on August 15 2019.
The ‘farm’ was on the moors above Halifax where I first met this family shortly after Sharon’s murder. Paul was devastated. He couldn’t stop sobbing, couldn’t sleep and was dousing his terrible grief in whisky.
You couldn’t help but worry that this family would ever find happiness again in such misery until Paul met Michelle Sherbourne, 49, a child-minder, and single mother of two children, Jade, now 29, and Jack, 24.
Some time after Sharon’s death she began child-minding, cooking and generally running the home — and she and Paul fell in love.
Within a year family meals were eaten round a polished oak table in a kitchen with a cream Aga and a tapestry that read ‘Home Sweet Home.’
Michelle is a cheerful, generous-hearted woman who doled out discipline and cuddles to the children in equal measure.
They were a family again. She taught Lydia to tie her laces, ride her bike and chased away the nightmares that disturbed the children’s sleep. ‘Michelle didn’t give birth to us but she treated us like her own,’ says Paul Jr. Lydia agrees. ‘She was a mum,’ she says.
Michelle and Paul became engaged in 2009 and married four years ago. For some, particularly Sharon’s family and close friends, the relationship was conducted with indecent haste.
For Paul and his children it was a godsend. He was terrified it would be snatched from him. The family sold their farm and moved to their present semi-detached home near Bradford three years ago.
It’s one of two houses Paul and his son have built on plot of land and is ‘a stepping stone’. They miss the farm terribly.
‘Lydia’s always been into her horses. I promoted it because it kept her in her little bubble and off the streets.
‘She had to get up at the crack of dawn to sort them out and lived and breathed horses.’ ‘Horses are my happy place,’ Lydia says.
The funeral cortege of PC Sharon Beshenivsky is pictured as her colleagues salute the vehicle
Officers are pictured patrolling floral tributes laid where PC Sharon Beshenivsky was gunned down in Bradford in 2005
‘I used to take myself off to see the horses and I’d feel better. I’d talk to a horse as if it were my mum. I’d have liked to do the horses with her.’
Paul’s face is full of love for his daughter. ‘I suppose she’ll be sitting on a great big animal. It’s not like she’ll be walking the streets or going into people’s houses.
‘I’d like to keep her in a safe bubble but she’s growing up. She’s finding her own world out there.
‘I don’t know if that’s good or bad but it’s what she wants.’
Timeline of the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky
18 November 2005: PC Sharon Beshenivsky was killed after and her colleague PC Theresa Milburn was seriously injured after they were shot at during an armed robbery at Universal Travel in Bradford.
25 November 2005: Police named brothers Mustaf Jama, 25, and Yusaf Jama, 19, as well as 24-year-old Muzzaker Imtiaz Shah as suspects in the case.
12 December 2005: Shah was arrested in Newport, South Wales.
13 December 2005: Yusaf Jama was arrested in Birmingham.
18 December 2006: Yusuf Jama and Muzzaker Shah were sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 35 years.
A third man, Faisal Razzaq, a 25-year-old from London, was cleared of murder but found guilty of manslaughter. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 11 years.
2 March 2007: A fourth man, Hassan Razzaq, the 26-year-old brother of Faisal was also convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Raza Ul-Haq Aslam was sentenced to eight years in prison for robbery.
1 November 2007: Mustaf Jama was extradited from Somalia after a Home Office investigation connected him to the robbery.
2 November 2007: Jama was charged with PC Beshenivsky’s murder
Hewan Gordon was jailed for 18 months for helping Shah evade capture
22 July 2009: Mustaf Jama was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 35 years behind bars.
2014: Police renew their appeal to find Piran Ditta Khan, who they believed was the mastermind of the robbery and fled to Pakistan after the crime. They promised a £20,000 reward for anyone who could help find him.
January 14 2020: Police arrest Khan in Pakistan after an investigation by the National Crime Agency.