Paratrooper Ben went to Afghanistan to protect us, now we can all help him

ALMOST a year to the day that Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson suffered the horrific injuries which would change his life for ever, the Free Press announces the launch of a fundraising campaign to help put a smile back on brave Ben's face.

We've teamed up with some key town agencies and charities to work towards making a positive contribution to a young life left in tatters - all for the sake of his country.

Whatever it takes we're aiming to give the 23-year-old former Paratrooper, who lost both of his legs and suffered more than 30 injuries after a landmine blast in war-torn Afghanistan, something to make his new life that bit more bearable.

And from next week onwards you will be able to help us...

Speaking to the Free Press yesterday Ben's Wheatley Hills-based mum, Diane Dernie, who is threatening legal action over the Government's award of a compensation package of just 152,150, said she been heartened by the support her whole family had received and welcomed news of our own campaign.

"It's a year ago to the day since it happened so it's been a strange day," she said. "But everything's going well and Ben is making amazing progress.

"The support we've received has just been incredible. And it would mean a lot to Ben to know Doncaster is behind him.

"He's lost so much of his memory that all of his memories are of his friends in Doncaster and Doncaster Rugby Club, where he played as a 13-year-old.

"I would love to have Ben home for Christmas - that's our target," she added. "We're working with Hedley Court (Military Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey] to achieve that."

Mrs Dernie, who has received more than 4,500 letters from well wishers, added that she expected to hear the outcome of a Ministry of Defence review into military compensation by the end of this month.

But before then you can help make a difference.

The Free Press is currently in negotiations with a High Street bank setting up a charity account - the details of which will be announced in next week's edition.

Why Ben was sent to fight in the desert

PARATROOPER Ben Parkinson served in Afghanistan as part of the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery from last year, following previous stints in Iraq and Kosovo.

He was joining the well-documented and controversial 'War on Terror' five years after it all began in October 2001 - a response to the September 11 attacks on the United States' Twin Towers in New York.

The aim of the invasion was to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy al-Qaeda - the alleged force behind the attacks on Western society - and remove the Taliban regime which had provided the support to al-Qaeda.

With varying degrees of success the battle goes on and British troops, along with their US and NATO counterparts, remain at the forefront of efforts to end the threat of terrorism. But that involvement has come at an obvious cost.

The deaths of Privates Ben Ford, 18, of Chesterfield and Damian Wright, 23, from Mansfield last week, whose Land Rover was also caught up in a roadside explosion, took the death toll of British soldiers to 76 - 53 of whom have been killed in action.

In the meantime, local organisations have wasted no time in getting involved. Doncaster solicitor Kate Stewart spoke on behalf of the Junior Chamber International.

She said: "JCI Doncaster is a leadership development organisation for people in their 20s and 30s. Members of JCI Doncaster read the story of Ben Parkinson and decided that they wanted to help.

"Although JCI Doncaster have no political viewpoints surrounding Ben's injuries, they simply saw a young local person and his family in need and they wanted to do whatever they could to help.

"JCI Doncaster are planning a string of fundraising activities for Ben's Appeal in order to assist him and his family. Our thoughts go out to them all in this time of need."

Brian Ross, secretary of Doncaster Lions Club, who will celebrate their 50th anniversary next year, also backed the campaign and said the charity would be doing everything they could to assist Ben and his family.

"Anyone from Doncaster who needs a bit of help, we will always look to support them," he said. "And we will be looking to give this lad some specific help as the need arises.

"At the moment we're not really sure what Ben needs, but if he wanted an mp3 player to make his life a bit better we'd buy him one. We try and do things to make life a bit easier for people."

South Yorkshire Newspapers editor-in-chief Graeme Huston said: "Ben's a brave man and we at the Free Press wanted to do something to help. We understand that a car adapted for Ben would be useful to the family - and we're aiming to raise enough money to get one."

Anyone interested in supporting the 'Help brave Ben' appeal by organising a fundraising event can contact us on (01302) 347260 for publicity.

To make a donation to the Benjamin James Parkinson Trust visit the Doncaster branch of Yorkshire Bank on St Sepulchre Gate. Cheques can be made payable to 'Ben Parkinson' or 'Ben Parkinson Trust'. Cheques can be sent to to PO Box 17, 19 St Sepulchre Gate, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, DN1 1SJ. If you have a fundraiser planned call the Free Press for pictures and publicity on 01302-347260