'I pretended my dad was sick and needed a kidney'

Birmingham Sunday Mercury reporter Adam Aspinall followed up an advertisement placed by a man offering his kidney for sale…. He tells how his splash story came about

It was the tip-off every journalist dreams of.

Returning to the office from a weekend away, I received a message from a contact that a Midlands man was trying to sell his kidney on the internet.

As huge as the potential lead seemed, it also sounded so incredible that I treated it with a healthy dose of cynicism before looking at the ‘advert’myself. What I found when I logged into a chatroom for those with kidney disease shocked me.

Instead of a sly, coded message designed to deceive the authorities, I read an ad so straightfoward it could have been in Yellow Pages.

‘I am a white male of completely perfect health,’it read. ‘Why risk getting a kidney from a Third World country? You don’t have to!”

Posing as the son of an ailing businessman, I emailed the seller and waited for a reply. It did not take long for desperate Dan Tuck to get in touch.

In his first tentative emails, the salesman from Oldbury, West Midlands, told me he was serious about offering his kidney for £24,000 because he was in debt and owed cash to a former girlfriend. Playing along, I told him that my father would fly him anywhere in the world for surgery as long as we could get the operation done quickly.

He was clearly desperate for the cash and eventually the emails were replaced by phone calls, during which greedy Tuck happily chatted about the potential sale. After little coaxing, he agreed to meet up with me to finalise details.

I suggested we rendezvous at the bar in Birmingham’s Rep theatre, in Centenary Square, which is a large and open space – the ideal setting for a ‘snatch’picture.

Seasoned photographers Adam Fradgley and Phil Hitchman took to their hiding places as we all waited to see if Tuck would really turn up to seal the deal. I need not have worried. The conman walked into the bar, right on time.

From his opening conversation, it was obvious that he meant business. He confirmed straight away that he was ready to sell me his kidney for £24,000. After a few minutes, we shook hands and Tuck believed the deal was done. He grinned as we left the building – and his picture was secretly taken.

He was eventually brought to justice in May and received a 12-month suspended jail sentence after pleading guilty to inviting the supply of human material for transportation, under the Human Tissue Act 2004, at Wolverhampton Crown Court where the judge described him as ‘deeply dishonest”.

Tuck, who has a string of previous convictions, claimed in his defence that he had resorted to selling his kidney because he had huge gambling debts.

His cynical bid to profit at the expense of genuine organ transplant patients was indefensible. And the case, the first of its kind, sends out a clear message to others who may be tempted to try to cash in on the trade in human organs: You will be brought to justice.

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