Painful vigil nearly over as family prepares to grieve: The Law Lords' decision spells welcome relief for Tony Bland's parents. Heather Mills reports

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The Independent Online
FOUR years after the Hillsborough football disaster condemned Tony Bland to a living death, yesterday's ruling in the Lords will finally allow his family to grieve.

While the relatives of the 95 who died in the terrible crush have been able to bury and mourn their loved ones, Allan and Barbara Bland have spent a long, painful vigil at their son's bedside.

His limbs contorted, his eyes open with only their reflex causing movement, he has been kept alive by a tube passing down his nose and throat and into his stomach. He is unaware of his parents' presence or of the intensive nursing care at the Airedale Hospital which keeps down the infections and prevents some further shrivelling. The parts of his brain which provided him with consciousness have turned to fluid.

A survey by Dr Keith Andrews, director of the Royal Hospital and Home in Putney, London, suggests there are up to 700 people in a 'persistent vegetative state'. But Mr Bland's condition is one of the worst. The decision to allow doctors to stop feeding and treating him is likely to lead to his death either from infection or starvation. But he will not feel it. His death will bring the Hillsborough toll to 96 and his name will be added to the memorial that stands outside the Liverpool football ground.

Yesterday at his home in Keighley, West Yorkshire, Mr Bland said the ruling came as a 'great relief, especially as it appears it was a unanimous decision. The Law Lords must have looked at Tony's situation in the same way as the other judges. The case speaks for itself,' he said in a statement issued through the News of the World.

'The decision is in the best interests of everyone. Not just in the best interests of our family but for the nursing staff who have cared for Tony and of course for Tony himself. Everyone is very relieved.'

His family say they want to remember their son as the 18-year-old who set off to watch Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final and made the decision to give up his seat ticket and head for the Leppings Lane terraces - not as the man in a persistent vegetative state at the centre of complex moral, ethical and legal debate.

Support for the Bland family came from Shirley White, whose son, Fraser, lay in a similar state until he died of pneumonia after four years, aged 26. She said: 'Mr and Mrs Bland have said what I have felt, so their life must be in limbo as well. You grieve all those years, you grieve for the person you have lost, but you cannot grieve for real until he dies.'

But others reached a different conclusion. Brenda McDowell, whose husband Coulter, a mathematics professor, has not spoken or moved for six years, said: 'I have thought about withholding the food but the doctor said it would be a terrible death - slow and very painful - and I couldn't bring myself to do it.'

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