HUNDREDS have paid their final respects to an inspirational and much-loved police officer who raised thousands for charity during a seven-year battle against breast cancer.

Sgt Kirste Bowman, nee Snellgrove, 42, lost her battle against the disease last month and more than 600 friends and family turned out for a service at Chelmsford Cathedral.

After being diagnosed with cancer in 2005, brave Kirste made it her mission to raise awareness of the disease.

Over the seven years, she raised more than £50,000 for breast cancer charities by running 23 marathons while fighting the disease.

Kirste, an Essex Police officer for 21 years, married her long-term partner John Bowman, 45, in 2010.

He said: “Kirste was the love of my life and my best friend. She was amazing and incredible – so inspirational and brave.

“She never asked why me? She always said why not me? She was determined to raise awareness of breast cancer and the need for people to be vigilant.”

Kirste grew up in Rochford and later moved to Fairview Close, Benfleet, where she lived for ten years. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, she underwent six bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but was diagnosed with cancer again in her other breast in 2010. She died on February 9 at Basildon Hospital after going in for treatment.

Kirste joined Benfleet Running Club in 2001 and throughout her treatment she never stopped going, and would train most days.

Barbara Oliver, 68, of Keer Avenue, Canvey, ladies’ captain at Benfleet Running Club, said: “Kirste was a member of the club for eight years.

“She was a much-loved person, witty, kind, and cheerful and a big Tottenham Hotspur fan.

“We are really going to miss her beautiful presence. She was gorgeous inside and out.”

John, who has three daughters from a previous marriage, said: “Kirste was such an inspiration to my three girls and such a brilliant friend to them.”

She worked in many of the police stations across south Essex. These included Leigh, Southend, Rayleigh, the mounted section in Southend, which was later disbanded, and Basildon, before she moved to the Chelmsford Police Training College seven years ago to train up specials, PCs and PCSOs.

John added: “She was really proud of her job and she loved it – she had such a great respect for the police.

“The message Kirste would have wanted me to relay would be to get the message out as much as possible about awareness. She wanted people to know breast cancer was not a death sentence, but a life sentence.

“She always said she wouldn’t change her life and having cancer made her appreciate all her family and friends so much more.”

Nichola Hurley, who was Kirste’s boss at Chelmsford Police College, added: “She never let the cancer get on top of her.

“She was amazing and loved her job in the police. She loved training people at the college and passing on her knowledge and skills.”

John and Kirste originally met in 1994 while they were both recovering at a police convelesence home. She had been assaulted on duty and he had an injured ankle from playing rugby.

The couple got back together just before Kirste was diagnosed in 2005, and they moved to Little Dunmow, buying their first home together just before they got married.

Kirste raised money throughout her illness for the Breast Cancer Campaign and she also set up her own running club with friend Natalie Watkins, from Braintree, called Breasty Dumplings, last April to raise money for cancer charities.

Kirste also spoke about raising awareness in the House of Lords in 2008 at a charity presentation, and encouraged women with the disease to stay positive.