‘Steroids killed our son': Teenager tried to bulk up his muscles.. within weeks he was dead
Matthew thought anabolic steroids would give him the bigger muscles he desired… but taking them ended in tragedy
With peroxide blond hair and a spray-tanned semi-naked body, Cabinet minister Caroline Spelman's son Jonny flexes his muscles for the judges at a body-building competition.
But it is not just the image of the 17-year-old's beefed-up biceps and hulking great thighs that is rather disturbing, but the fact that last year he had been caught using anabolic steroids to boost his muscular physique.
The discovery of his drug abuse led him to be kicked out of his rugby club and boarding school.
It must have caused distress to ÂEnvironment Secretary Mrs Spelman, who'd battled at huge expense to keep Jonny's drug use out of the headlines to protect him.
But as any parent with a child that takes anabolic steroids ought to be aware, the drugs can be highly Âdangerous and addictive.
Long-term use can lead to aggressive behaviour, mood swings, liver or kidney tumours, strokes and heart attacks, or worse.
Tina Dear knows just how devastating the drugs can be.
Her son, Matthew, was 17, the same age as Jonny Spelman, when the young cadet started taking steroids in an attempt to 'bulk up' and become a Royal Marine, but within weeks, he was dead.
While a postmortem was Âinconclusive, Tina believed the muscle-building drugs, which he bought illegally, caused his brain to swell.
He died just three months before he could take the selection test.
Deeply saddened by Jonny Spelman's case, Tina says: "It just makes you Ârealise that the message needs to be put out there that these drugs are dangerous.
"A lot of these youngsters who take steroids don't see them as drugs - they think they're some kind of supplement and don't see them as dangerous.
"It's important to raise awareness and show these youngsters they can still achieve the body they want the healthy, natural way, without steroids."
Tina, 45, who with her husband, Chris, 46, runs the Matthew Dear Foundation, that offers help and guidance to those affected by steroid use, reveals that since they launched it a year ago, they have been contacted by more than 100 people concerned about steroids.
"It can be worried partners of those who take steroids, those addicted Âthemselves, or parents of youngsters taking them.
“The youngest we've had is around 16 but I've read there have been kids as young as 11 who have taken steroids to build themselves up as they've been bullied at school and the drugs make them aggressive. It's shocking."
Tina was unaware of her son's new habit and could do nothing to prevent his unnecessary death.
Former England under-17 rugby ace Jonny claims his parents have turned their backs on him because he had chosen body building as a profession saying: "I've chosen body building as my life and my parents have decided they're not happy with that.
“They've told me eventually I'm going to have to move out…"
Mrs Spelman spent more than Â£60,000 battling in the high court to prevent her son's steroid use coming out and lost.
But later Jonny posted videos of himself tanned and extraordinarily muscular on the internet.
And in one YouTube video, which has been removed, he reportedly begged his fans for money and offered to post private clips of himself working out in exchange for their help, saying: "My aim is to be the biggest guy there ever was."
Says Tina: "And this is the problem. These boys think taking anabolic steroids is the only way they can do this. There are plenty of natural body Âbuilders out there who don't take steroids.
"There is a lot of pressure on young men to look a certain way. They're influenced by these Hollywood actors who have big muscles.
“Just as girls want to be stick thin like models then take diet pills and battle with anorexia, boys think they have to have a six-pack and muscles.
“What young men need is some positive role models who can say, 'Look, I've done this and without the use of drugs'."
In Matthew's case, it was his all-Âconsuming desire to become a Royal Marine that led him to steroid use in 2009.
He'd been in the Army cadets since the age of 12 and couldn't wait to become a fully-fledged soldier when he turned 18. Matthew bought the pills on the black market for Â£40 through new friends he met at a gym.
But just three weeks later, on April 13, 2009, the part-time postman, from Southend, Essex, was at home when he fell ill and was taken to hospital.
He admitted he'd taken steroids but was discharged the following day when he began feeling better. His parents were shocked about their son's Âconfession, but their main concern was Matthew.
"Because he was so health conscious and never smoked and Ârarely drank, the thought that he might be taking anything didn't occur to me," says Tina, a school learning assistant.
That night, however, Matthew was in bed when he woke unable to see and with severe stomach cramps. His parents rang for an ambulance again.
"He was rolling around on the bed and Âscreaming in pain," recalls Tina. "He had to be sedated because of the agony and he was having uncontrollable fits.
“They were so violent, none of the drugs doctors gave could control them."
Sadly, Matthew fell unconscious and never came round. An initial medical report said the muscle-building drugs had caused his brain to swell and his organs to fail.
"I just can't put into words what Chris and I went through," explains Tina. "I get choked up just thinking about it now."
The police arrested two men, Alex Moss-Austin and Gary Penny, both from Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, in connection with supplying Matthew and another with 50 Âanabolic Âsteroid pills each.
They Âpleaded guilty and were sentenced on March 1, 2010 at Basildon crown court.
They received 160 hours of community service and were fined Â£300, which Tina calls 'a joke'.
Sadly, since Matthew's death, little appears to have changed in relation to the number of young men turning to Âsteroid use.
Recent figures have shown a 42% rise in the number of under-18s Âadmitted to hospital for steroid poisoning since 2004.
And they are still easy to get hold of without regulation.
One website offers a choice of more than 25 Âdifferent types of steroids with 1,000 Âanabolic steroid tablets priced at just Â£64, shipped from Thailand.
The sellers even offer to re-ship an order if it is seized by customs officials.
Describing the loss of his beloved but misguided son, Chris, also a postman says: "He fell to pieces before our eyes."
The family released a heart-wrenching photo of ÂMatthew lying in a hospital bed hooked up to life support.
"He was my baby," says Tina. "We just hope by sharing our pain we could help save someone else's son's life."
Steroids: the facts
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has become increasingly concerned about the number of young men accessing anabolic steroids over the internet in recent years, and is calling for a ban on their sale from the hundreds of overseas websites that deliberately target users across Britain.
Chief drugs adviser Professor Les Iversen says: "At the moment, information is much too easily available. "The material available online is often contaminated and could be dangerous.
"If you search online you will see endless offers. We think [a ban on importation] would have a considerable dampening effect on demand. It may be difficult to enforce but it would act as a simple deterrent."
Anabolic steroids are manufactured to mimic the effects of the male hormone testosterone and are taken to increase muscle mass and athletic performance.
The drugs can be highly addictive and can have serious side effects, including infertility, an increased risk of prostate cancer, splayed teeth, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes and tumours. They can also cause mood swings and hallucinations.
Anabolic steroids also accelerate bone growth, so if misused by adolescents, they can cause premature ageing of the bones and restricted growth.
Figures from the British Crime Survey, published by the Home Office, estimate that 50,000 people in the UK are using steroids to train harder and quickly build muscle.
But researchers claim the real number could be far higher because many people don't openly admit to using them.
"The real growth has come in young users who want to improve their body image," explains Prof Iversen.
Steroids sit in a legal grey area between a medicine and a banned recreational drug.
Anabolic steroids are a class C substance so are illegal to sell or deal.
They can only be legally prescribed by a doctor for medical reasons. But it is not against the law to take the drug.
By Nilufer Atik and Gemma Ricketts