William Foxton was fond of drawing on his long military career and experience of danger to give his son tongue-in-cheek advice about what to do in the direst emergencies: if attacked by a polar bear, the best thing was to lie perfectly still and play dead; if a space station suddenly depressurised, his counsel was to avoid exploding the lungs by exhaling.
But when Willard Foxton, 28, phoned his father a fortnight ago, he found him devoid of his normal wit and wrestling with a catastrophe to which he could see no solution – the loss of his entire life savings, worth up to £1m,in the alleged bogus investment scheme run by Wall Street fund-manager Bernard Madoff.
William was a distinguished career soldier who served in the French Foreign Legion and the British Army before working in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. He told his son: "I'm sorry Willard, I can't really concentrate; you see I lost all of the family money to the Bernie Madoff scam, and I think I'm going to have to declare myself bankrupt."
The son also recalled yesterday that "he confided in me that he was in 'an absolute shit-fight' with his banks," over his life savings invested in two Madoff hedge funds.
The depth of the despair felt by Mr Foxton, 65, a recipient of the MBE and OBE who retired last November after 40 years of military service and charity work, only became clear on Tuesday afternoon. He left his Southampton home and walked to a small walled park close to the city's magistrates' court. Sitting down on a bench he put a semi-automatic pistol to his head and fired a single shot.
Despite the efforts of paramedics to save him, the former army major became, in the grimmest possible sense, the latest victim of the giant Ponzi scheme that Madoff is accused of running with the loss of £35bn of investors' money. Up to three million people worldwide, many of them ordinary individuals saving for retirement, are thought to have lost money in the Madoff scheme and associated funds when they collapsed last December.
For Willard Foxton yesterday, there was no doubt where the responsibility for his father's death lay – on the shoulders of Madoff, who is under house arrest in New York, and others responsible for the sham hedge funds. In an internet tribute to his father, Mr Foxton said: "Essentially I want Madoff and others involved to know that they have my father's blood on their hands ... My first thought was to show up at Madoff's trial in New York and throw all of my father's medals in his face. I think it's disgusting that Bernie Madoff is sitting in his New York property, thinking that all he did was steal money, when, in fact, what he was really doing was ruining lives."
Mr Foxton was no stranger to risk, albeit of a very different order to that run by Wall Street's investment gurus. Among the deluge of tributes being paid to him yesterday was a tale from a former colleague on the European Commission Monitoring Mission to the former Yugoslavia, recalling how Mr Foxton, who lost an arm in a grenade blast in 1976, crawled into a minefield to rescue a child.
During his many postings abroad, including in the Sultan of Oman's armed forces, Mr Foxton built up a body of savings and in the late 1980s began investing in two hedge funds – Herald USA Fund and Herald Luxemburg Fund. Both collapsed late last year when it emerged that they had been invested in the Madoff scheme.Reuse content