Volcano wrecks Norfolk children's Disney dream

Stephen PullingerSick youngsters set for a dream holiday in Disney World, Florida organised by a Norfolk-based charity were stranded at Gatwick airport by the volcanic ash flight ban.Stephen Pullinger

Sick youngsters set for a dream holiday in Disney World, Florida organised by a Norfolk-based charity were stranded at Gatwick airport for five nights by the volcanic ash flight ban.

But just as the party feared they might have to cancel the trip, or organise an alternative holiday in the UK, they were finally able to check in for their Virgin flight yesterday morning.

Four officers from Norfolk Constabulary, making the two-week trip in their spare time, were due to fly out with 12 children on Saturday but they were left marooned at the airport's Hilton hotel.

Insp Mark Haddow, who runs the charity The National Holiday Fund with his wife Mary from their home in Hemsby, near Great Yarmouth, admitted that if the flight ban had continued they would have had to sit down and decide whether to send the children home or try to arrange something in this country.

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He said: 'One of the issues is that the purpose of the holiday is partly to give respite to parents who may have other children to look after as well.'

Insp Haddow, from the Mile Cross, Catton and Fiddlewood safer neighbourhood team, is being helped on the trip by Sgt Chris Brooks of the city's west centre SNT, PC Rory Prior, from Bethel Street, Norwich, and PC Kay Johnson, from Lakenham and Tuckswood, Norwich.

The group, which includes youngsters with a range of chronic or life-limiting illnesses and temporary or permanent physical disabilities, is being supported by a doctor, nurses and physiotherapists also giving up their time.

Insp Haddow, who organises two Florida trips a year, each costing about �35,000, said: 'Saturday was the hardest day because we had nothing organised and spent most of the time trying to get the flights re-arranged.'

He said they had gone to the airport on that day as planned, even though the outlook for flights looked poor, because one of the children was on a special feed prepared in a laboratory seven days in advance so timing was critical.

Since that first day, the party - including local youngsters from Lowestoft and Hemsby - had enjoyed 'a whale of a time despite the disappointment of not being in Florida'.

He said: 'We met some girls from the airline Flybe and even though we were flying with Virgin they organised a day out for us on Sunday at an adventure park in Eastbourne.'

And during Monday and yesterday the youngsters were entertained with visits to Chessington World of Adventures and Thorpe Park provided free by the parks' owner, the Merlin Group. At Chessington they were surprised by the charity's president Graham Cole, the actor who played PC Tony Stamp in The Bill.

Insp Haddow said the hotel was providing them with free evening meals but the extended stay had still been a huge extra cost for the charity.

To find out more about the charity and donate money, log on to www.nhfcharity.co.uk