THE funeral took place today of a 28-year-old man who focussed on helping others despite a gruelling battle against a terminal illness. Peter Barron was amongst the congregation

AS Matthew Hadden’s coffin was carried out of the church after a funeral service that had inspired both tears and laughter, a spontaneous round of applause broke out amongst the mourners.

They had turned out in such numbers that there was standing room only in St Peter’s Church, at Croft-on-Tees, near Darlington – a stone’s throw from the primary school he had attended as a little boy.

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And Matt was given an emotional final ovation in recognition of his remarkable achievements and determination to live life to the full even though he had been diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer.

Just a few months ago, he was introduced to Sir Mo Farah before completing the Great North Run, despite having had a leg amputated. It was part of an inspirational campaign to use what life he had left to achieve as much as possible while raising thousands of pounds for charities close to his heart.

The director of the Great North Run, David Hart, described Matt at the time as “the true winner of the Great North Run”. By completing the world’s most famous half-marathon, he had raised £8,000 for Maggies, a support centre at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, while other epic sporting feats raised thousands more for cancer charities.

Lay reader Viv Waugh, who conducted yesterday's funeral service, fought back tears herself as she told the congregation: “Matt had many trials and tribulations in his life, but he faced them head on. He was a special and treasured young man and he will never be forgotten.”

As the service began, Mrs Waugh said: “Matt would have loved this – to see you all here together to celebrate his life – and that’s what we are here to do.

“He meant so much to so many people in different ways. Matt was full of life, with so much to do and so much to look forward to, and it is a huge tribute to him that so many of you are here today."

Mrs Waugh said it had been a great comfort to Matt’s mum and dad, Sarah and Brian, and sister Helena, that so many wanted to be part of the tribute, adding: “We are united in greatly admiring his courage and selflessness in putting others first.”

Matt grew up in Hurworth-on-Tees and later Dalton-on-Tees. He had a wide range of interests, including being a talented clarinet player, having a passion for martial arts, and playing water polo for the Darlington Dolphins.

He was training to be a police officer, and colleagues from the West Yorkshire force were at the service. Matt was also a volunteer puppy-walker for the Guide Dogs For The Blind Association, and two puppies from the charity joined the mourners.

Among friends paying a personal tribute was Imran Shah, who runs a community cohesion advisory group for the police in Leeds. He spoke of Matt’s passion for solving community problems and his dedication to tackling hate crime and injustice. “He was simply one of the best human beings I have ever met and that gap in my life will never be filled,” he said.

Mr Shah told how he had visited Matt in hospital on the day his leg had been amputated. “We all expected him to be sullen but when we walked into the room, he smiled and shouted: ‘Hey, guess what Imran, I can join the Paralympics now!’”

It was an anecdote which captured the spirit of the service and summed up Matt Hadden’s inspirational approach to life.

The applause that echoed around the ancient stone walls of St Peter’s Church could not have been more richly deserved.

Donations to Matt Hadden’s memory can be made through the following Just Giving sites:

  • www.justgiving.com/fundraising/helena-hadden-tough-mudder
  • www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mteverest24hrclimb
  • www.justgiving.com/fundraising/64milesformacmillan