Express & Star

Fireman paralysed in Walsall crash killed himself

A former firefighter who was paralysed in a motorbike accident committed suicide after being told that doctors could not help him control the constant pain he was in.


Derek Tonks, known as Andy, left notes for his parents, sister and a former girlfriend before taking a fatal dose of prescribed antidepressants. The 43-year-old suffered a major spinal injury in 1998 when he was crushed under a car in a 15mph crash.

The accident in Noose Lane, Walsall, left him with the use of only his right arm.

He had been driving to his second ever shift after spending 10 years trying to join the service. It was his dream to follow in the footsteps of his father, also called Derek, who was a firefighter in Dudley.

Mr Tonks, who was just 28 at the time, received treatment from doctors at Oswestry's specialist spinal unit and was still under their care when he died.

His mother Patricia told his inquest at Walsall Manor Hospital that he had been determined to make the best of his life in spite of his disabilities. He learned to drive again, went on holidays, and even enjoyed diving.

On a recent visit to Oswestry, he told doctors he was having trouble swallowing and felt full even after only a small amount of food. He thought his spleen, which had been ruptured in the accident, had swollen and might have been obstructing part of his digestive system.

However, he was told there was nothing wrong and was 'shouted at' by a doctor, said Mrs Tonks, who had accompanied him. She said: "After that his mood changed. It was downhill from there."

She also said he felt uncomfortable and could not sleep at nights, feeling his body to be twisted and deformed, but doctors said this was not borne out by X-rays.

She told the inquest she begged her son not to give up and even offered to accompany him to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland, for assisted suicide.

She said her son, who lived independently in a specially adapted flat in Bloxwich Road North, had apparently told a friend he intended to commit suicide.

Coroner Robin Balmain concluded that Mr Tonks killed himself.

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