The adoptive mum of brave double amputee Tony Hudgell today talks for the first time of her own fight – with bowel cancer.
Campaigning Paula Hudgell says steeling herself to beat the disease has given her yet more determination to ensure child killers and abusers get tougher punishment.
Her lobbying led to Tony’s Law, named after the seven-year-old who was battered by his birth parents.
Mum-of-eight Paula, 53, says: “I was diagnosed with a large tumour in February which had been growing for as long as 10 years.
“This was a total shock. I know it won’t be an easy ride but if my boy can go through so much, often still smiling and with his cheeky sense of humour, then I can too.
“Being diagnosed with bowel cancer seems to have put even more of a fire in my belly.
Baby Tony was abused by his birth parents
Tony Hudgell lost both his legs
Paula Hudgell / SWNS.COM)
“I’ve been fighting for Tony’s Law since my son’s evil abusers were jailed four years ago.
“I was horrified to learn that those who caused or allowed a child to die did not face the same life sentence as those convicted of murder, manslaughter or even grievous bodily harm with intent.
“Tony’s Law now gives judges the power to hand down sentences that truly reflect the appalling nature of these crimes and ensure these monsters stay behind bars longer, and possibly for life.”
And with a determination that is reflected in courageous Tony, she adds: “I’m not ready to give up yet. The Government can go further by establishing a register that ensures offenders can be tracked. I may have my own health battle, and I’m under no illusion as to how hard it will be, but it won’t stop me doing all I can.”
Paula spoke with passion at home near West Malling, Kent, where she and husband Mark, 57, have given Tony a fresh start.
Paula had a six-hour operation in March. She is about to start six months of chemotherapy – followed by a second operation to remove a temporary ileostomy bag.
Plucky Tony won the nation’s heart when he raised more than £1.6million for the Evelina London Children’s Hospital by walking 10km on his first prosthetic legs.
Paula admits her diagnosis has left her worried for her kids.
Evil Anthony Smith
Tony's birth mother Jody Simpson
She explains: “To hear the words you have cancer left me with not a fear for myself but for my children, all of them, but especially Tony.
“What would happen if I didn’t make it through? Tony and Lacey, who is 10, are my youngest children and still need me so much.
“I’m the one that deals with all Tony’s care and hospital appointments, which he’ll need for life. Selfishly, my thought was no one can do the job as well as I can, so how will they cope?
“Then I worried I may never see them grow up, get married, have children. My second eldest son is getting married next month, the first of my children to do so, and I questioned whether I would still be here for his big day.
“My husband and 16-year-old daughter Jess couldn’t string anything together without crying – they were like chocolate teapots!
“We were very honest from that diagnosis with all the children but it was hard as their outlook on cancer is that it leads to death, having lost both my mum to cancer in 2019 and my dad a year later.
“But they are better now as we have to just come to terms with it and deal with it. I’ve tried to remain positive and upbeat. I think positive mental attitude is half of the battle.
“Plus, Tony is so positive and such an inspiration about everything so how can I complain?”
Tony is happy with his adoptive parents Paula and Mark Hudgell
Thankfully, the stage two tumour had not spread to the lymph nodes or other organs.
Paula adds: “It’s not going to be easy but if all goes well the best outcome is a 70% chance of being cured. As for this year, we have written off our ‘holiday of a lifetime’ to Mexico for Tony and the three youngest ones. If all goes well we’ll just go next year.”
Paula will meet Children and Families Minister Will Quince next week to discuss a national register for child cruelty offenders.
She goes on: “Child abusers could end up having more children or babysitting for a neighbour who has no idea of their wicked crimes. Sex offenders have to notify police for several years, sometimes indefinitely, of where they are. Similar protection should be afforded to our most vulnerable members of society.
“Sadly, we can’t change what happened to our little boy, but Tony’s Law will hopefully protect other children in the future.
“I cannot tell you how proud and delighted I am of what has been achieved, much of it through the amazing public support in signing petitions, people lobbying their MPs and the invaluable assistance of my MP, Tom Tugendhat.”
Tony’s Law is part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, given Royal Assent on Thursday. Those who cause or allow the death of a child now face up to life imprisonment – up from 14 years. Those who cause or allow serious harm, or are guilty of child cruelty, face a maximum 14 years, up from 10 years.
Tony suffered life-changing injuries when just six weeks old.
Parents Jody Simpson, 29, and Anthony Smith, 52, were jailed for 10 years in 2018 for causing or allowing serious physical harm.
Maidstone crown court heard the pair inflicted fractures to Tony’s limbs and a 10-day delay in seeking help led to life-threatening organ failure and sepsis. His legs were later amputated at the knee.
Tony was fostered at just a few months old and later adopted by Mark and Paula, who is opposing day release for evil Simpson.
Paula is grateful to friends who helped while she was recovering from her op – and is deeply indebted to the NHS.
She says: “It has taught me how fragile life is. But once fit I intend to make the best memories and not put off doing things like we so often do.”