At 23, Daniel chose to end his 'second class' life

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The Independent Online

A promising rugby player who was paralysed in a training ground accident has become the youngest ever British person to die by using an assisted suicide clinic.

Daniel James, 23, travelled to Switzerland with his parents last month to die – 18 months after he lost the use of his body from the chest down when a scrum collapsed on top of him during a practice session in March 2007. Sources close to the young player suggested that his condition was improving. He could eat and dress himself and there was a possibility that he might have been able to walk again with the use of calipers.

But yesterday, Daniel's parents, Mark and Julie, said that their son had become determined to die and had attempted suicide on several occasions. It is thought that friends and relatives of Mr James had known about his plan to die in Switzerland.

Now police have launched an investigation and have spoken with a man and woman. The case is set to be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. No one has ever been successfully prosecuted for assisting a suicide.

Detective Inspector Adrian Todd, of West Mercia Police, said: "A report will later be submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service and an inquest into the death will take place in due course."

No relative or friend of the more than 100 UK citizens who have gone abroad to die in Dignitas clinics has so far been prosecuted. However, all those are believed to have had terminal illnesses, whereas Mr James did not.

Yesterday afternoon Daniel James's family issued a statement through their lawyers. It told of how he refused to live a second-class existence, and concluded: "This is the last way that the family wanted Dan's life to end but he was, as those who know him are aware, an intelligent, strong-willed and some say determined young man."

Before his accident, Daniel attended the Chantry High School and Worcester's Royal Grammar School. He went on to Loughborough University where he studied construction engineering management.

He had created a Bebo page on which he had wrote: "I am studying at Loughborough University, and I play AFL for Hawthorn Hawks. I also go the BASE in my spare time. Watch out for the others ... they are coming!!!!!!"

He listed his musical tastes as: "Pete Doherty, Idlewild, Arctic Monkeys, Blink 182, The Kooks, Bowie, Dylan, Incubus."

His rugby career saw him play for England Under-16s, Midlands, Kiddeminster Carolians, Stourbridge, as well as the junior section of Worcester Rugby Club. The front-row forward had been tipped to become a professional rugby player. He had played for the England Students team and won the British Universities and Colleges Sport Association final in 2006 with his Loughborough University team.

Mr James, from Worcester, became quadriplegic after his accident while training with Nuneaton Rugby Club. At the time his mother told The Worcester News: "It was so sudden. We had no build-up to it, it just happened. We got a phone call saying Dan had a bit of a knock at rugby. That was it." Following his accident in early 2007 he had to have several operations to fuse two vertebrae in his neck and spent eight months in Stoke Mandeville hospital where he was given physiotherapy. A trust set up in his name raised £25,000 for spinal research.

Yesterday, his physio, who asked not to be named, told The Independent that she believed Daniel could have gone on to live a "worthwhile life". She added: "I heard that Dan had died last month and I was totally shocked. He was improving and, despite technically being a quadriplegic he still had the use of his arms and hands. He could feed and dress himself and was able to push himself around in his wheelchair. Most quadriplegics do improve over time; these improvements come perhaps two or three years after the accident. It was early days for Daniel."

But Mrs James has defended her son's decision to die, explaining: "He couldn't walk, had no hand function, but constant pain in all of his fingers. "He was incontinent, suffered uncontrollable spasms in his legs and upper body and needed 24-hour care."

In an email response earlier this month to a newspaper article about a right-to-die test case, she wrote: "Dan “Dan had tried to commit suicide three times but this was unsuccessful due to his disability, his only other option was to starve himself.”

Mr James' funeral last month was attended by a representative of the Rugby Football Union, the body he had represented for England under-16s and England students. A spokesman said he was a "very good player" who was highly regarded by teammates.

He said: "We cannot comment about any investigation. What we can reiterate is that we were desperately sad to hear the news of Dan's death and expressed our deepest condolences to his family at the time. He was a very good player and very highly regarded.

"The students' teams are seen as a good stepping stone for people going on to play a very high level of rugby."

Daniel's inquest was opened and adjourned on 19 September. A cause of death is yet to be ascertained but the circumstances of his death are recorded on the coroner's website as: "Deceased travelled to Switzerland with a view to ending his own life. He was admitted to a clinic where he died."

Daniel James: His parents' statement

'Dan, our much loved son, passed away on 12 September, 2008.

'He had suffered an extremely serious injury following an accident on the rugby training ground 18 months ago and had never come to terms with his much-documented extreme physical incapacity.

'Dan was an intelligent young man of sound mind and, after giving the matter much thought, became determined to take his own life and, after several unsuccessful attempts, gained his wish on the said date.

'Over the last six months he constantly expressed his wish to die and was determined to achieve this in some way. He was not prepared to live what he felt was a "second-class existence".

'His death was an extremely sad loss for his family, friends and all those who cared for him but was no doubt a welcome relief from the prison he felt his body had become and the day-to-day fear and loathing of his living existence, as a result of which he took his own life.

'This is the last way that the family wanted Dan's life to end but he was, as those who know him are aware, an intelligent, strong-willed and some say determined young man.'