Daily Mail - "An agony that never ends"


When Rachael Thorold moved into her new home with husband Chris two weeks ago, she barely gave a thought to where she was going to position the table and chairs, the sofa and TV.

All that mattered was finding a place for her baby son's ashes. She simply couldn't bear that he might be cold or lonely.

'He's my baby and I need to take care of him,' says Rachael quietly. 'His ashes are wrapped in his little infant sleeping bag. It's on our bedside table so we can sleep next to him.

'Rationally I know Louis has gone and isn't coming back. But we just aren't ready to say goodbye to him yet.'

You'd need a heart of stone not to understand. Baby Louis has been dead just seven months. He was killed instantly in a road accident on January 22 when a grey Mazda 2, driven by one of the Thorolds' elderly neighbours, was in collision with a van.

Careering off the road, the van crashed into Louis' pushchair. The sleeping Louis, just five months old, was thrown out of his pram and died instantly.

Rachael, 36, was also horrifically maimed in the accident in Waterbeach, Cambridge. She fractured her skull, sustained serious nerve damage and broke virtually every bone on the right side of her body including her cheek bone, several vertebrae, her pelvis, hip, arm and leg.

She was in a coma for ten days, drifted in and out of consciousness for the next 40, and only in March was stable enough to start rehabilitation at a private London hospital paid for by the car driver's insurance company, which has admitted liability.

There she made such extraordinary progress that — in May — she was allowed home. Determined to regain every shred of her lost fitness and mobility, she now spends her days on an exhausting routine of therapies.

Remarkably, despite the severity of the accident, her sharp brain is undimmed. Her memory is excellent. She speaks clearly and eloquently and rarely struggles for words. But there are obvious signs of her trauma, from the tracheotomy scar at her throat to the hobble when she walks.

Although she refuses to seek sympathy, she is having to relearn everything from brushing her teeth to loading the dishwasher. Hardest of all, she is having to learn how to build a life without her baby.

Showing remarkable courage, she has decided to speak exclusively to the Mail about her journey. She's doing so because she wants to honour Louis and to demonstrate the devastating impact the accident has had on her family.

Speaking from her new home in Fulham, West London, where she and Chris, 36, hope to escape the memories that hang heavy in their old home, she says: 'Louis was just a baby. He never had the chance to lead a full life. I owe it to him to make sure something good comes out of his death.'

The couple have set up a charity in his name: the Louis Thorold Foundation. It aims to eradicate child pedestrian deaths by improving road safety and to compel drivers over the age of 70 to be retested regularly.

It's a highly contentious issue: with people living longer, the number of elderly drivers on UK roads is at an all-time high. There are thought to be more than four million.

Yet under the current rules, drivers aged 70 and over have to renew their licence by post or online every three years, and inform the DVLA if they have a health condition that may affect their ability to drive.

It is understood that the elderly driver has not been fit to be interviewed by police and, to date, no charges have arisen from the accident and there is yet to be an inquest.

Rachael and Chris met at Newcastle University in 2003. Busy with their careers — Chris worked for various blue-chip companies and Rachael was planning policy manager for Elmbridge Borough Council — they started trying for a baby shortly before they got married in August 2015.

'It was a huge shock when it didn't happen,' she says. 'I worked out at the gym and ate healthy food. So did Chris. We expected a baby to come easily.'

After two years of trying naturally, they started on the long road to fertility treatment through the NHS.

'There were endless tests,' she says. 'Finally we were told that there was no obvious cause. But we seemed no nearer to being accepted for IVF. It hurt so much, although now I know what real hurt is.'

In the midst of all this, Rachael's father Steven, a nuclear engineer, died suddenly of a heart attack. He was just 58. It was particularly traumatic for Rachael as she had lost her mother, Morag, to breast cancer when she was barely five and her younger sister, Claire, was three.

Seizing the initiative, they decided to pay for IVF treatment at a private clinic in Cambridge. To their intense joy, Rachael fell pregnant at the very first attempt in November 2019.

Celebrating that Christmas, they were ecstatic. Chris had started a new job as finance director of Marshall Aerospace in Cambridge, so they decided to move to the area.

In February — when Rachael was six months pregnant — they swapped their cottage in Epsom, Surrey, for a five-bedroom new-build in the sleepy village of Waterbeach, six miles outside Cambridge.

Rachael sailed through her pregnancy, excitedly preparing for the baby who they knew from scans was going to be a boy.

'I went a little bonkers,' she laughs. 'Chris and I come from ordinary families. We wanted Louis to have the best of everything.'

Perhaps because of losing her mother when she was so young, Rachael is a woman who likes to be in control so she booked in for an elective caesarean at Cambridge's Rosie Hospital.

Louis was born on August 4, weighing 8lb 12oz. 'He was so perfect I couldn't believe he was really ours,' says Rachael. 'I lay awake all that first night just drinking in every tiny bit of him. I knew I would lay down my life for him.'

Back home the family settled into a routine. With Chris working from home because of Covid and Rachael on maternity leave, their lives revolved around Louis.

'I was unbelievably proud and happy,' she says. 'With this wonderful baby, every day felt like Christmas.

'The tiniest things thrilled us. When we took Louis for his first walk — with our little five-year-old terrier, Alfie — we came home and celebrated with champagne.

'He was an incredibly chilled baby; the only baby to fall asleep in the middle of a swimming lesson. He slept easily, barely ever grizzled and just wanted to have fun.

'We were so close that, his whole life, I think I was only away from him for a few hours once when I went to the hairdressers and then I missed him like crazy.'

They took endless photos and videos to send their families; something for which they are now inordinately grateful.

The very last video the night before he died, Louis is fresh from his night-time bath and proudly showing his new skill at rolling over. He's wriggling and gurgling with glee as Chris tries to dry him.

'He had the dirtiest laugh,' Rachael smiles. 'It was so cute.'

The accident wiped out Rachael's short-term memory so her last recollection of Louis is from the previous weekend.