Tributes to former police chief Ken

Kenneth John O'Brien. (s)
Kenneth John O'Brien. (s)

Tributes have been paid to former Lancashire Constabulary Detective Chief Inspector and devoted family man Kenneth John O’Brien.

Born in Everton to John and Daisy O’Brien in 1940 during the Second World War, Ken was evacuated to Preston with his mother while his father was a serving soldier.

When the war ended, Ken’s father spent time at Fulwood Barracks and the family made their home in Preston.

Originally living in a two up, two down in Duke Street, Ken attended St Saviour’s CE Primary School before moving on to Frenchwood Secondary Modern, Preston. While at the latter, Ken was made head boy and had the privilege of leading the Preston Guild banner procession. He was also in the Cubs, Scouts and was a keen sportsman representing Preston schools in athletics events and acting as captain of the school’s football team.

On leaving school at 15, Ken joined Preston North End FC as an amateur player. He captained the youth team which included footballing greats like the late Sir Tom Finney and international players.

At the same time, Ken secured an apprenticeship at the English Electrical Company, later BAE, as a jig and tool maker. But, at 17, Ken was offered professional terms with Preston North End. Not wanting to relinquish his job, however, Ken kept on with his apprenticeship and was allowed to have a part-time contract at the club. His wife Gillian recalled how Ken received a £20 signing fee, a small fortune to him at the time. When his father died he gave his earnings to his mother who gave him £5 which he used to buy a new pair of leather shoes and a bunch of grapes!

“He used to be amazed and think it was obscene how much money footballers are now on,” said Gillian.

At the age of 21, Ken completed his apprenticeship and became a draughtsman for BAE working on, during his time there, the TSR2 plane which proved revolutionary in the Second World War.

At the same time, Ken also played for Netherfield at Kendal FC.

When redundancies started at BAE, Ken decided to join the Police Force in April 1963, then Preston Borough Force.

Ken, who had three children to his first wife who later died, went on to remarry in 1979 after meeting Gillian.

Ken had broken his leg in 1976 playing football and, when it was not mending, he was advised to take light exercise. Ken, at the time a Sergeant in the Drugs Squad, joined the Force’s badminton team which police woman Gillian also played for. The two became friends and, as they say, the rest is history.

In 1991, the couple had a daughter, Victoria, now 22, and two years later Ken retired from Lancashire Constabulary holding the rank of Detective Chief Inspector.

Ken progressed from a rank of Sergeant in 1975 to that of Inspector in 1981 and Detective Chief Inspector in 1986. He was also a hostage negotiator and was often in the Lancashire Evening Post and on TV for high profile cases.

Ken was also head of the Regional Crime Squad, Head of the Lancashire Drugs Squad and acted as an undercover police officer. Understandably with such a resumé, Ken was presented with many awards for bravery during his career.

Regarded as a “true gent”, Ken was very popular in the Police Force, helped many in their careers and cared for his “troops”.

In 1987, Ken and Gillian moved to Sawley from Whittle-le-Woods, and after his retirement, Ken set to renovating the cottage, doing most of the work single-handedly.

Other interests included playing golf at Clitheroe Golf Club and Ken was also on Pendle Primary School’s Board of Governors when Victoria was at the school.

Described as a “humble perfectionist” Ken also spent hours researching his family history. He was also a keen philatelist.

An avid gardener and nature lover, Ken enjoyed holidays with this family fell walking in the Lake District and Scotland. In the last 18 months, he had suffered with ill health and died in the home he loved surrounded by his family on March 7th aged 73.

His funeral was held at Skipton Crematorium with donations made to the MacMillan Nurses Ribble Valley Support Unit.

His eulogy read: “He considered himself a very lucky man to have a wife and a daughter who he adored and who adored him, to be living a comfortable existence in a part of the world which he loved and where he fairly well had all he could ask for.”