Young chef's legacy to give hope to others

Kathryn CrossWhen a car crash claimed the life of her son Helen Ford decided something good should come out of the tragedy. She spoke to Kathryn Cross, describing for the first time the terrible circumstances of the accident and of her fund-raising campaign that is set to leave a lasting legacy.Kathryn Cross

When a car crash claimed the life of her son Helen Ford decided something good should come out of the tragedy. She spoke to Kathryn Cross, describing for the first time the terrible circumstances of the accident and of her fund-raising campaign that is set to leave a lasting legacy.

When Helen Ford picked up the telephone to her son David in the early hours of the morning she knew something was wrong.

But even in her worst nightmare she could not have imagined the tragic event that was about to unfold.

As he asked for her help the phone line went dead. David, her only son, a 23-year-old handsome and popular young man, an aspiring chef and devoted father, had been killed in a car crash.

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The accident happened at Foulsham on February 14 last year. David was the passenger in a car driven by his friend Ryan Marshall. They had both been drinking and mistakenly believed that the police were pursuing them. The car hit a wall on a blind bend in the High Street and David, who was not wearing a seatbelt, died at the scene.

'He always came to me if he needed help,' said Helen, the first time she has spoken publicly about the accident.

'He said he was in trouble and was in a car in Foulsham and had been drinking. The last thing I heard him say was 'whoah, whoah, whoah' and then the phone went dead.'

Helen had not heard a crash but she, and her husband Nigel, set out to find him, and discovered a scene every parent must dread - police, ambulance and fire crews surrounding the car they knew their son was in.

'They told us he had been killed instantly.'

More than 200 people packed the church in Gunthorpe, near Holt, where the family live, for David's funeral just over a year ago and hundreds of tributes were left on his Facebook page, which is still regularly visited by his friends today.

But while Helen recognises the 'stupid, reckless' attitude of the boys caused the accident that cut one young life short and left another serving a four-year prison sentence, two remarkably positive things have also come out of the tragedy - an extraordinary compassion towards the driver of the car and a fund-raising campaign to ensure a lasting legacy to David's life.

Within weeks of the crash Helen met up with Ryan, who admitted at his court case to causing death by careless driving, to make her peace and explain that there would be no recriminations on her part for his actions that night.

'People think it is strange that I care about Ryan,' she said. 'Yes, he has done wrong and has to be punished by my feelings are that they were two friends and Ryan has to live with this for the rest of his life. He is completely remorseful, regretful, devastated but there for the grace of God go I. It could have been the other way round and I would not want another family to go through what we have been through.'

In a move that has surprised many people, Helen writes to Ryan in prison and is in touch with his family.

'If Ryan can get through this and get out the other side then at least there will not be two lives wasted,' she said. 'David would want me to feel this way. Accidents happen and people make bad decisions all the time. Some people get away with it.

'David wasn't an angel. He had his problems but we were dealing with them.'

She explained that David had struggled since his final year at school when he was introduced to drugs.

'It was not what I would call an addiction. I suppose it was peer pressure and he liked to be one of the boys.

'He was the most charming person you could meet. He would help an old lady across the road, he was a gentle lovely boy but people have choices in life and he made some wrong choices. He did not know when to say 'no'.

'He thought he could deal with it and lived on his luck, but his luck ran out. He was no different to most young people and what happened to him could have happened to anyone. At that age they think they are invincible. But you can't carry on thinking 'what if?''

She said that as a boy David was a keen sportsman, he loved football and even had a trial with QPR. He also enjoyed country sports with his dad, a farm worker.

But he was determined to become a chef, and had jobs at Blakeney Hotel and then and the Victoria in Holkham as well as restaurants in Norwich. He moved briefly to Sheffield with his then partner and their new baby daughter Isla but after they split he returned to Norfolk.

But it appears he was unable to escape the drug scene and he made the difficult decision to give up work in January last year to move back home to sort himself out for good.

Sadly, after making great progress, just one month later a night out with an old friend was to prove fatal.

But because of his struggle David's family decided that they would like to support the Jamie Oliver Foundation's Fifteen apprenticeship scheme, which helps disadvantaged young people, who are often overcoming drug or alcohol problems to create great careers in the restaurant industry.

After raising �1000 at his funeral Helen said they were stunned to be invited to the graduation ceremony of the 2009 apprenticeships where they were asked to present an engraved chef's knife for the most improved apprentice in memory of David.

'The Foundation has taken us to their hearts,' said Helen. 'David would be so touched to think that a piece of equipment is being used in some of the most prestigious restaurants with his name on it. We do wonder what life would have been like for David had there been a Fifteen in Norfolk.'

In the past year the family has raised another �3000 for the Foundation and now Helen is busy organising another event, hosted by former Norwich City manager and current Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington, a family friend.

Two representatives from the Foundation will be coming to the event, sponsored by G&B Electrical of Briston, on July 2 at the Links Country Park Hotel in West Runton which is expected to raise thousands for the charity from ticket sales and a prize draw.

A spokesman for the charity said last night: 'Ever since we have known the Ford family we have been completely in awe of the generosity that they and their community have shown towards the Foundation. It is all the more touching given the tragic circumstances. We are very proud that David's name is associated with our apprenticeship programme and wish them all the success for July 2.'

Helen added: 'The fund-raising helps, but I still can't believe I am never going to see him again - it seems so wrong. There will come a time when I learn to accept it. But if we can help one person through Fifteen then we have made some good come out of this.'

Tickets cost �15 - for information email Helen at