“No-one ever moves on from losing a child” A mothers tribute to the loss of her son
- Credit: Archant © 2013
David had been at university just five weeks when he was found dead. Winning a place to study for a degree had been an enormous achievement for the 19-year-old, who was so severely autistic that he could not live at home. In some of the darkest times his parents had feared his future would be in secure institutions.
And then he discovered a flair for computer science, and was taught ways of managing his emotions and anger. He became the only pupil from his school ever to gain a university place and was looking forward to a future with a full social life, independence, 'and ultimately a high paying career in computers, so he could afford all the gadgets he loved!' said his mum, Wendy Webb.
It was just after midnight that two police officers woke Wendy, and her husband Ed, at their home in Taverham, near Norwich.
'You know it's not going to be good, when the police call in the early hours,' said Wendy.
It was the worst possible news – their son was dead.
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At 19 David seemed to be just beginning to fulfil the potential which everyone around him knew was there, but which had been so cruelly obscured by the autism.
As an angelic-looking young child, blond, blue-eyed, it gradually became obvious that David was disabled. His speech was late, he did not play with other children, he became obsessed with toy trains or doors, or lining up boxes, his behaviour was unpredictable and increasingly unsafe. As he moved through school, more and more intervention was needed, from teachers and teaching assistants, speech therapists, social workers, special units, respite carers and, eventually specialist therapeutic boarding schools.
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As she and Ed struggled to come to terms with, and deal with, having a disabled toddler, Wendy and Ed also faced with the tragedy of a still-born baby, and then the premature birth of their son Peter, now 16.
Family life became impossible, with David unable to cope with a simple supermarket trip, days out or even the daily routines of home. His education continued in specialist boarding schools but, on Christmas Day 2007, when David was 14, Wendy had to call the police.
'One of us would have ended up in hospital otherwise,' she said. 'We were in danger, and scared.'
She and Ed retained parental responsibility, but David was looked after by Norfolk County Council, and found a place in a secure, therapeutic school in Devon.
Here, he thrived, learning social and domestic skills as well as how to manage his autism. His natural intelligence shone through.
'He was very intelligent,' said Wendy. 'Uni was heaven for him.'
At Plymouth City College he was twice named 'student of the term' and finished with a triple distinction in computer games design.
It won him a place at Plymouth University.
David had dreamt of the independence university would offer.
But the support for a disabled university student is different to that offered by a residential school and David had been adamant that he did not want to tell fellow-students about his autism.
He was free to make friends on his own terms and got on well with the other students in his hall of residence on campus.
He was last seen in the early hours of October 14. Three days later his lifeless body was found in his room.
An inquest has been opened, and adjourned, in Plymouth.
Wendy is hoping that the full inquest will give her some answers about what happened to David, and why.
She last spoke to David, by phone, on her birthday, at the end of September.
She had been trying to contact him for several days when the terrible news of his death arrived. But David did not want to monitored and tracked. Bleakly, Wendy said: 'We backed off, because we wanted to give him his independence. I didn't want him saying he wasn't coming home for Christmas.
'He has had so many meltdowns, and so many depressions. I think he was suffering from a lack of sleep. I think he thought carers would come running and sort out whatever was bothering him.'
But although he had extra support, as a disabled student, it was very different from the 24-hour, seven-days-a-week monitoring of his school placement.
David spent the summer at home in Taverham – the first time he had spent more than 10 consecutive days with his family for many years. There was a family holiday. Life was still fraught and Wendy said: 'We had to tread on eggshells and be terribly careful.' But underlying the worry was pride in David and what he had achieved.
And she is full of gratitude and praise for the staff at Norfolk County Council who supported David throughout his childhood.
'All his carers took David to their hearts. He was such a big success story for them,' said Wendy. 'He was such a beautiful baby, blond hair, blue eyes, and he was gorgeous looking as he grew up, grew taller than me, and I was proud to have him at my side. I was hoping he would manage a girlfriend one day!'
Instead, she visits his grave every week, and has planted daffodils there, for David and for his baby brother Andrew. 'It is tragic that it ended so suddenly, when all his dreams were being fulfilled. No-one ever moves on from losing a child,' she said.