Bikers remember big Phil

Bikers from the Royal British Legion Riders Branch and Christian Motorcyclists Association gather to unveil a bench in memory of fellow member 'Big Phil' and to lay his ashes in Knowle Green Church cemetery
Bikers from the Royal British Legion Riders Branch and Christian Motorcyclists Association gather to unveil a bench in memory of fellow member 'Big Phil' and to lay his ashes in Knowle Green Church cemetery

A ROARING column of handlebars and glinting chrome formed a tribute to a late Wigan biker.

Members of the Lancs and Lakes branch of the Christian Motorcyclists Association (CMA) and the Royal British Legion Riders Branch held a memorial ride and then church service for Phil “Big Phil” Heaton.

They then jointly unveiled an inscribed memorial bench in the grounds of the church – Knowle Green Congregational Church near Longridge – where Phil, 51, had enjoyed so many Biker Breakfast meetings since finding God eight years ago.

Phil, also known by bikers as The Tank because of his impressive bulk – was born in Wigan and is well known to many of the motorcycling brethren across the borough.

He was raised through the care system before leaving for Army enrolment which would eventually see him serve in the Falklands campaign.

Minister of a church he supported and fellow motorcyclist Pastor Christopher Okpoti, today paid tribute to Phil, who cut an imposing figure in his Holy Cross emblazoned black leather jacket.

He passed away from a heart complaint last autumn.

Although he was not in contact any surviving family, the two biker clubs, became just that, particularly after he found his Christian faith, said Pastor Okpoti. He said: ”Phil grew up in the care system in Wigan and didn’t have a family that he was in touch with.

“He joined the army, served in The Falklands and was in the services for quite a number of years, but when he came out he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Eight years ago Pastor Okpoti and a church partnership started a free biker breakfast social meeting at the church which attracted up to a 100 bikers each time.

And Big Phil became, typically, a larger than life part of it. Pastor Okpoti, who rides a Kawasaki ZZR 600cc, added: “He was a big man in many ways – he certainly loved his breakfast. He was so young when he died and that also of course had a big effect on all his motorcycling friends.

“Big Phil clearly suffered a lot when he came out of the army and his motorcycling friends were such a part of him getting himself well again.”

“He rode only a 125cc bike and being such a big man, six foot high, he was always breaking them!

“Phil was really loved by the bikers – they all called him the big ugly bear and he was the archetypal gentle giant.”

The riders decided that they wanted to remember Phil permanently with a memorial bench which now sits proudly in the grounds of Knowle Green, where his ashes were also scattered.