Richard Stephen Kirkman was born on 29 April (or 29 March) 1949 in Surbiton, Surrey, England. His passions included cricket, railways, and justice for homeless people. He undertook management and business studies at university, though most of his working life was with homeless people. He was a prominent member of Char, the campaign for single homeless people, both nationally and within Greater Manchester. He always carried a book in his bag which contained the current timetables of every train service in Britain. He died aged 38 years on 4 May 1987 in Stockport, Greater Manchester.
Richard was killed while working at a hostel, stabbed repeatedly by a young male resident. The attacker was subsequently caught by police officers when they searched the young man’s girlfriend’s flat in Hulme, Manchester, and found him hiding on the balcony. Richard was a large, well-built man and in reporting his death, the local newspaper called him a “gentle giant”.
An Inquest into the death was held on 29 May 1987. The young man was later tried, found guilty and sentenced to prison. The hostel was at 220 Wellington Road South, Stockport, now used as offices.
A non-religious memorial service was held at the St Thomas Centre, Ardwick Green North, in Manchester for his many friends and colleagues. The funeral was held later near Southampton, where his parents lived, with the reception held at the Hampshire county cricket grounds.
A story Richard liked to tell:
“One day while I was working in Stockport I found myself in a record shop in the rougher end of town. Various folk were lingering there, slowly flicking through the album covers, a few there just for the warmth. A bell rings and the door opens – in walks a tall police sergeant in full uniform. Everyone there is suddenly looking down very hard, pretending not to notice him. Slowly, he walks through the shop, past everyone in turn. People bristle, their pulses racing. With so many people to choose from, who is he after today? He walks on, up to the counter. Just as the assistant is about to speak, the sergeant puts a fiver on the counter. ‘Baker Street,’ he says. Such a relief all round. Brilliant!” Richard said.
In 1988 a charity was set up by his family, The Richard Kirkman Trust, (registration 327972) which makes donations from the income from its investments for good causes in the Hampshire area. Previously his friends had paid for a bench for waiting passengers at Stockport railway station in his name.
A year after he died he was mentioned in a debate in the House of Lords concerning the death of social workers at work. “There have been too many similar cases of violent attacks on social workers and others. Last year Richard Kirkman was stabbed to death at a hostel for homeless people in Stockport, Cheshire.”(1)
A decade later he was mentioned again in a BBC report on trade union concerns about violence against social and community workers, although the date of his attack was incorrectly given as 1983.(2)
Richard was a good friend of mine, and I was surprised about how little I could find that had been written about his life, so I started with this.
TWO PRESS CUTTINGS:
Stockport Express Advertiser, Thursday 7 May 1987, front page
Murder of a Gentle Man
A “gentle giant” who spent his life trying to help people was murdered in a “savage and frenzied” knife attack on Monday.
Richard Kirkman, warden of a Wellington Road North halfway hostel and chairman of Stockport Action for Benefits, was found by one of the residents in a pool of blood just after 10pm.
He had suffered more than 25 stab wounds mainly to the chest. Detectives leading the enquiry say it was a particularly “frenzied and sustained attack of savage intensity”.
The body of Mr Kirkman, in his late 30s, was found in the pantry of the hostel, owned by the Stonham Housing Association, where he had worked for the last eight years.
Police were trying to find the murder weapon which they believe to be a knife, possibly a kitchen knife, which is believed to have a 10-inch blade.
Police want to interview a heavily tattooed man called …, who was seen near the hostel on Monday between 12.30 and 1.30pm carrying a rucksack and also, it is believed, a sheath knife with an 8-10 inch blade.
Police say he is potentially dangerous and should not be approached.
Mr Kirkman, a 6ft gentle giant who weighed 18 stone, was described by friends as a quiet man. He lived in a flat near to the hostel in Wellington Road North, Heaton Norris.
For the past 18 months he had been involved with Stockport Action for Benefits, trying to help the homeless and was in charge of the hostel which tried to rehabilitate offenders back into society.
Mr Patrick Cornwell, National President of the housing charity CHAR (Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless) said, “He was a wonderful man. I’d known him for 14 years.
“Everyone who knew him respected his enormous commitment to helping homeless people. I’m devastated.”
Councillor Ian Roberts, who had known Mr Kirkman for 18 months, said, “I only saw him last week. He was a great bloke who spent his life trying to help those less fortunate than himself.
“He deserved better than this. For the last year and a half he’d been trying to bring the plight of the homeless to the attention of Stockport Council. I can only hope that the work which Richard started will get some recognition.”
Councillor Ann Coffey, Labour’s Social Services spokesman was stunned by the news. “He was a man who changed things. He had done a lot of work to make Stockport council more understanding to the plight of the homeless.”
Detectives are anxious to trace anyone who has stayed in the hostel recently, and three men who were currently registered there. Det Chief Supt Jim Grant said, “I hope we can prick the consciences of these people he has helped in the past, to help us now.
“Police can be contacted in confidence on ….”
A spokesman for Stonham Housing Association said, “We are very shocked. We are working in co-operation with the police and are making arrangements for the house to be closed for the time being.”
Stockport Express Advertiser, Thursday 4 June 1987, page 10
Tributes to Richard
Campaigner for the homeless Richard Kirkman who was killed last month is being remembered by his family and friends at a commemorative gathering tomorrow (Friday).
Tributes will flow at St Thomas Centre in Ardwick Green, Manchester, for the “gentle giant” many people took to their hearts.
A trust fund is being set up to carry on Richard’s unstinting work for the homeless. Further details can be obtained by ringing Patrick on … or Lyn on …
In 2018 I came across again this tribute that I wrote in 1986:
About Richard Kirkman
“In May this year Richard was brutally killed. He was a longstanding member of Manchester Mind and a tireless campaigner for the rights of homeless people. More than that, he campaigned for the dignity of oppressed people. His special interests were the language and images used to perpetuate these oppressions, and the involvement of homeless people to resist these labels being stick on by others.
He was also very funny.
Manchester Mind annual general meetings can be fairly small and straggly events at times, not exactly high points on the travels of a seasoned and well-known local campaigner. Yet year after year Richard was there, helping to just make the quorum. He made it memorable and worthwhile with his humour as he heckled the treasurer, an old friend. He could detect the very first stage of pomposity, and burst it with laughter.
His dedication and uncompromising inclusion of his beliefs in his own life, and death, will be remembered with pain and affection. When the newspapers reported his death, a common phrase used was “the gentle giant.” As language and as an image it is something quite fitting.”
Manchester Mind, Annual Report 1986-87