'Tombstoner' paralysed from the waist down

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Lying in a hospital bed paralysed from the chest down and hooked up to tubes, Sonny Wells is a shadow of his former self.

He used to be in the Army, loved playing football and going out with his friends and had his life ahead of him.

But a few seconds of thrill-seeking has shattered that life and left his doting family devastated.

Sonny, 20, of Woodsedge, Waterlooville, will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life after jumping off South Parade Pier in Southsea and breaking his neck.

Sonny's family wanted the shocking picture of their son lying in hospital to be published in a bid to stop people 'tombstoning'.

His dad Robert Wells, 44, told The News of the agonising moment he had to tell his son he was paralysed.

Mr Wells, of Liddiards Way, Purbrook, said: 'He asked me "am I paralysed?"

'I said: "You are in a hospital bed. What do you think?"

'He replied "I think I am paralysed".'

Sonny, who was football-mad and had been selected for Portsmouth FC's youth academy as a teenager, was enjoying the sun on Sunday with his friends on Southsea seafront.

He had just visited the family restaurant Nemrut, in Albert Road, which is owned by Sonny's mum Jacqui Unal, 42, who is separated from Mr Wells.

In a flurry of excitement the 20-year-old ran on to the pier, ripped his shirt off and plunged 30ft into just three feet of seawater.

It was a jump he had done before.

This time, however, rather than resurfacing smiling to the cheers and claps of his friends, he had to be dragged from the water unconscious and airlifted by helicopter to Southampton General Neurological Unit, where his family have been keeping a round-the-clock vigil.

Mrs Unal said: 'I want people to see what he is like in hospital – to save a life. If it saves just one life, then it will have been worth it.

'For that sheer moment of pleasure my son has lost his life. It's really not worth it.'

Sonny cannot remember anything about the jump, only the moment he was floating in the water and trying to breathe before he fell unconscious.

Mrs Unal said her son was an extremely active and athletic young man, who had been in the Army for two years in the King's Royal Hussars.

For the last year he was saving up money working night shifts at the cosmetics factory Whitman Laboratories, in Petersfield.

When not working he was an avid football player and over the years played for local teams Widbrook United, Hurstwood and Ramsdale.

He was due to move to Nottingham next week to start work as a painter and decorator for his uncle's firm.

His grandma Joan Wells, 77, of Perseus Place, Waterlooville, said: 'He's a really gutsy lad. That’s part of the trouble, though – he has no fear.

‘None of these boys do – they only think about the excitement of jumping.’

Mr Wells had a message for anyone thinking of tombstoning this summer.

He said: ‘I just want people to take 30 seconds to look at this picture.

‘This is what can happen to you if you are one of the unlucky ones. It’s not just you – it’s the consequences it has on your family.

‘If you don’t want your mum and dad crying for days on end while you are lying in a hospital bed, then maybe you will think twice.’

Mrs Unal added: ‘He’s lost his whole life at only 20 years old and people are still jumping.

‘Someone else will get hurt next year.

‘But I want people to stop and think about what they are risking.’

jeff.travis@thenews.co.ukDon't condemn yourself to life in a wheelchair, warns heroic sailor

A quadriplegic who broke his neck in an accident 23 years ago has begged youngsters not to tombstone.

Geoff Holt, 42, who broke his neck when diving into the sea in the Caribbean, said he would give back his achievement of being the first disabled person to sail solo around the British Isles just to be able to walk again.

Mr Holt, of St Anne's Lane, Shedfield, near Fareham, said: 'I was down at the beach over the weekend and every time I see people do it, it fills me with dread. I can't watch.

'I would invite anyone who does it to spend an afternoon on a spinal injuries unit.

'For 23 years I have not been able to make a meal for myself, and I have to have help going to loo. It's devastating.

'But you can't stop people doing it. If you go up to any of these lads and tell them to stop, they will not listen. They think they are invincible.

'We have only had a few days of hot weather and already people are being hurt. How many more will it take?'

Mr Holt, who won The News' We Can Do It Special Achievement Award in 2007, said: 'They have signs up warning people the penalty is 500. The sign should have a wheelchair – it's not about money.

'Ending up in a wheelchair is the real penalty.'

Roger Vincent, from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: 'People have always jumped into the sea from rocks and piers, but they need to know what they are jumping into.

'It is vital that people heed the warnings.'