When eight-year-old Tony Hudgell found out his abusive mother had been released from prison, his first thought was not for himself but for other children.
Tony was so badly abused by his biological parents, Jody Simpson and Tony Smith, that he had to have both legs amputated.
He was just 41 days old when the twisted couple attacked him and was lucky to escape with his life.
But when the indomitable boy learned the evil Simpson, 29, had been released in February after serving six years of a 10-year sentence, Tony’s biggest fear was for the other children the ailing couple might have.
It’s this incredible empathy that has led Tony to raise almost £2million to help other disabled and sick young people.
This week he raised £19,000 by climbing 780ft to the summit of Orrest Head in the Lake District.
Adoptive mother Paula, 56, said: “Tony knows his birth parents can’t get close to him and he knows he’s safe with us, but he worries that something could happen to another child if they do would have.”
“It’s quite a burden for a little boy, but it shows his caring, empathetic nature.”
“He knew his mother should be released but we were shocked when she came out. I went to tell Tony and he must have seen my face because he said, “She’s outside, isn’t she?”
“He does get a little upset at times, but not for himself because he knows we care deeply about him. He always tells our older kids that he’s special because we chose him.”
Paula struggles with her own health issues after being diagnosed with colon cancer in February 2022.
She underwent major surgery to remove a tumor and six months of intensive chemotherapy, which ended last October.
Her recovery has been slow and a series of intestinal upsets have left her in pain, but the mother-of-eight says Tony’s courage helped her cope.
Paula, from West Malling, Kent, said: “It wasn’t easy but I look at everything Tony has been through and I’m like, ‘How can I complain?'” He really is amazing.
“If he comes through with a smile on his face, then so can I.”
Despite her illness, Paula successfully campaigned for child molesters to remain behind bars, but unfortunately the law change came too late to keep Tony’s biological mother in prison.
Watching Tony reach the summit of Orrest Head, near Windermere, filled Paula and her husband Mark, 59, with pride, especially after the boy removed his prosthetic legs to climb to the summit.
He was joined by mountaineering legend Sir Chris Bonington, 89, who has undertaken 19 Himalayan expeditions and scaled Mount Everest four times.
As Tony neared the summit, there was also a surprise when British Army veteran Hari Budha Magar snuck up behind him on the final stretch.
Hari, 43, a double amputee who lost his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2010, left the little boy speechless.
The former Gurkha became Tony’s hero after becoming the first double amputee to scale Everest in May.
Hari and Sir Chris might have risked their lives to be on top of the world, but there was no mistaking who the star of the show was as Tony held up a Union Jack at the end of his fundraiser.
Sir Chris said he was “impressed” by the youngster’s “stamina, courage and determination”.
While Hari said, “He’s my hero. He is the same as me. He’s a really strong character and what he does is amazing. We need more people like Tony.”
Paula said: “Everything Tony does shows real determination.
“On this climb he had to get going when the adrenaline hit him.
“He was so fast he was up and down in about three hours. We wanted to take him back downstairs in an all-terrain wheelchair, but he refused and did everything himself. He didn’t want any help.
“It reflects how determined he was in life from the start.”
Paula is convinced it’s Tony’s heartbreaking early days that make him care so much about others.
He really needed to get going on this climb because the adrenaline was really getting in his way. He was so fast that it took him about three hours to climb and descend.
His mother Simpson and father Smith, 52, were sentenced to ten years each at Maidstone Crown Court in 2018 for assaulting, neglecting and abusing Tony.
It took a jury just an hour to convict her.
In the five weeks he was with the evil couple, all of his limbs were broken, his ankle, toes and thumb were dislocated, and he became deaf in one ear.
He was left in agony and without medical attention for ten days, suffering from sepsis and multiple organ failure.
He needed 23 surgeries and eight blood transfusions.
He stunned doctors by surviving his horrific injuries before being taken in by Paula and Mark at six weeks old.
They fell in love with him and adopted him in 2016 at the age of 17 months.
Paula later said: “He was in so much pain that he even screamed while under heavy sedation. You could see in his eyes that he was closed, but he was just beautiful. Broken but nice.”
Since being adopted by the Hudgells and their seven children Ben, 34, Ryan, 31, Chloe, 29, Kyle, 21, Jess, 17, Jaden, 16 and 11-year-old Lacey, Tony has always been got stronger.
His horrendous injuries led to Tony eventually having his legs amputated at the age of four, but the boy usually refused to let his disability get in the way.
In June 2020, inspired by Captain Tom Moore during lockdown, the then five-year-old set out to raise £500 for the Evelina London Children’s Hospital charity by running 10km (six miles) on his new legs.
He raised £1.7million and received a top national award the same year.
Broken but beautiful
Along his journey, Tony has made high-profile friends including Ant & Dec, Simon Cowell and even the Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Catherine.
His story brought Holly Willoughby to tears while appearing on TV show This Morning in 2018.
Paula said: “Tony doesn’t let any obstacle stand in his way. He just lives on and always has a smile on his face, even if he struggles with pain on a daily basis.”
Paula and Mark, who work in finance, started the Tony Hugell Foundation to help other children who have suffered emotional, physical or psychological abuse.
The £19,000 raised by Tony from his latest challenge has been shared between his own foundation and the Bendrigg Trust, Crohn’s and Colitis UK and Fix the Fells, which looks after trails in the Lake District.
His willpower inspired Paula to fight for a change in the law to give child molesters harsher sentences.
In January this year, she was awarded an OBE for services to children after successfully campaigning for Tony’s Law, which gave judges expanded criminal powers.
The maximum penalty for causing or allowing the death of a child has been increased from 14 years to life imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for harming a child has been increased from 10 to 14 years.
Tony knows his birth parents are not allowed to come near him and he knows he’s safe with us, but he worries that something could happen to another child.
But the laws came too late to stop Tony’s cruel torturers, despite attempts by then-Attorney General Dominic Raab to block Simpson’s release.
Mr Raab tried to prevent her early release by using discretionary powers over dangerous offenders, but Simpson appealed to the Supreme Court and a judge ruled that the minister’s attempt to delay her release was unlawful.
Tony’s birth father was denied parole and Paula says she was told he will likely have to serve the remainder of his sentence.
The doting mother says Tony has always been aware of his origins – the family never tried to hide it from him.
She said: “He grew up with knowledge.
“Every time he had a doctor’s appointment, everyone wanted his full medical history.
“We answer any questions he has in an age-appropriate manner, but he doesn’t ask them very often.
“The most important thing is that he knows he is loved – and that will never change.”
- If you would like to donate, go to tonyhudgellfoundation.org