Children's long walk home honours loving couple killed by dangerous driver

James, Robbie and Natasha Bernard hope to raise £50k for Norwood on the tenth anniversary of the deaths of parents Alan and Rochelle


The three children of a Northwood couple who died after being hit by a car ten years ago in Dorset will mark the anniversary by walking from the South Coast to London to raise money for Norwood.

Alan Bernard, 53, and wife Rochelle, 51, had been walking arm-in-arm along the road in Sandbanks, where they had a holiday home, on September 11, 2010. The motorist admitted causing death by dangerous driving and failing to complete a drink-drive test and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

“They never came home,” said Robbie Bernard, who with siblings James and Natasha will set off from Sandbanks the day after the anniversary. “The idea of walking from Bournemouth to London is doing the journey home for them.”

Natasha, then 17, had been with her parents in Sandbanks and dined out with them on the night but had left the restaurant ten minutes before them. James, who worked in the family building business, and Robbie, a student at the time, had been in London.

Robbie recalled being awoken at 2am to discover a string of missed calls from police officers. When he called back, he could hear his sister screaming in the background. Both he and his siblings describe the night as “a blur”.

“I just remember feeling really alone,” Natasha said. When the police arrived at their holiday home to inform her of her parents’ deaths, she told them in her grief: “They won’t ever see me become a singer.”

Robbie, now 34, added: “Our lives were essentially turned upside down. We lost the guidance and the love of our parents at such a vulnerable time.

“James and I immediately had to be guardians for my sister. I had to stop studying and start working with my brother in our father’s business. We were an incredibly tight family with a lot of love. In the space of one evening, the whole family was just ripped apart.”

James, 37, reflected: “I’m not sure that I necessarily had the right amount of time to mourn. There was just so much going on.”

For Natasha, an actress, “the past ten years have been incredibly difficult and caused a lot of pain. Now we’re at a point of trying to turn that negativity into something positive.”

The walk will not just be to raise money but to help them come to terms with their loss.

James explained that “we really liked the idea that lots of people at different points across the five days will be able to join us and in a much more relaxed manner speak about their memories of our parents and have that opportunity to get a bit more closure.”

He and Robbie have children of  their own and both are sad that their parents — who were married for 28 years — never got to see their families.

“I just have a big regret that my parents can never meet my son,” said Robbie, a Western Marble Arch Synagogue member.

The loss hits James particularly hard at times of major life events. “These special moments come and more than ever, it stands out that they’re not a part of that.”

They have already raised £22,000 of their £50,000 target, which they want to put towards helping children dealing with trauma. They have also offered to speak about their experiences to children in similar situations.

The trio chose to back Norwood because of its work in schools, enabling them to reach out to vulnerable children.
From their own experience, they realised that “people don’t seek help in those situations”, Robbie said. “If we’re going to help young people going through this, we need to seek them out. They’re not going to come to us.”

Natasha added: “We were a really close family and my mum was my best friend. They were just really kind, generous people. They just wanted to help other people.

“And that’s why our fund is important. Because everything that happened to them was so negative and they were not negative people — they were incredibly positive.

“We wanted to use this to change the ending [of their story] to something that suits them a lot better.”

The Bernards' Virgin Giving page can be found here.

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