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Dad's loving tribute to Royal Marine son Keith Ashburn who died in Dartford Tunnel crash

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A fearless fighter and a gentleman, Keith Ashburn changed the lives of all who met him and will live forever in their memories.

The former Royal Marine from Swanley died earlier this month when his motorbike crashed in the Dartford Tunnel, prompting a flood of tributes from friends, family and team mates at Swanley Rugby Club.

Keith in the Royal Marines
Keith in the Royal Marines

This week Keith's father Derek paid tribute to his son, who had turned 30 in August this year and was due to be married to fiancée Jade in December.

"He was always the kind of person who helped anybody," said Derek, who had joined Keith for his stag party just two days before the accident.

"He would do anything for anybody, and he was always polite and courteous. I'm not just saying that because he's my son. Anyone you talk to would say the same.

"It's been tough, but that's to be expected," he added. "I've been concentrating on the funeral and that seems to have helped. He's going to get a Royal Marine escort and they'll be joined by a few of the Kent bikers."

Mourners will even be joined at the funeral by some Viking Pagans representing the religious belief adopted by Keith - apt indeed for a man who showed a fighting warrior spirit from an early age.

Swanley Rugby club posted a tribute to former player Keith Ashburn
Swanley Rugby club posted a tribute to former player Keith Ashburn

Born in South Africa in 1991, Keith took up karate at an early age and went onto become South African karate champion four times, representing his birth country at the 1999 world championships in Spain and the 9th World JKA Championships in Tokyo in September 2004.

Two months later Keith would move to England with his father, due to the changing political landscape in South Africa, and joined the cadets, his first step into a military career.

Meanwhile he also started at Hextable School, where he made an impression on pupils and staff alike.

"He was a favourite with the dinner ladies, because he was always polite and he was always like that," recalled his dad. "He got extra chips and burgers. One of them sent me a text saying Keith was their favourite."

After leaving school he went onto work at Sports Direct in Crayford, cycling there every day, before deciding to go for the marines, which involved the notorious 30-mile selection 'Yomp' - a march through rough terrain carrying heavy loads.

Keith enjoying bowling with dad Derek
Keith enjoying bowling with dad Derek

His dad recalled: "I was a bit hesitant at first but the selection process was one in three to start with, then one in three to be selected to do the long weekend, and then only one in three get through that. So very few get through. I thought, if he gets through that he deserves it.

"He ended up doing the 30-mile Yomp twice in three days," he added. He was short on the first one as the corporal was pushing them to get the new record. Four of them didn't make the cut off, and the corporal got a roasting from the officer in command, who said he'd cost him four marines.

"So he got another chance, loaded up on Haribo and Snickers, did it again on the Saturday and smashed it."

Keith's career with the marines would take him around the world between 2010 and 2016, posted to Libya to evacuate British Nationals, providing security during the Olympic Games back home in England, and heading to Somalia to help catch what was then the biggest contingent of pirates snared by military forces.

After leaving the marines, he did security jobs and enjoyed playing rugby for Swanley Rugby Club, as well as taking up Krav Maga - a martial art practised by Israeli special forces' martial arts.

Keith was a keen martial arts practitioner
Keith was a keen martial arts practitioner

"It's more like real fighting," explained Derek. "I've got a video showing when his instructor attacked him with a knife and within four seconds he had blocked him and knocked him out."

But while Derek said his son was feared by opponents in rugby and martial arts, he said he always remained a gentleman.

"He wasn't a bully or anything like that," he added. "He was tough and he would stand his ground when he had to, but he was such a nice guy. And those that knew him knew he was funny.

"I had a message from one of the cadets Keith had known, who said 'you don't know me but I know Keith and I wanted to let you know that Keith changed my life. As soon as I saw Keith, I knew the type of man that I wanted to be.'

"He said he tried to do everything like Keith would, but he could never be Keith. I also had a message from someone he'd known at Sports Direct who joined the marines because he was inspired by Keith.

Keith Ashburn enjoying a night out with friends
Keith Ashburn enjoying a night out with friends

"I don't think Keith even knew the impact he had. To hear it all of a sudden was like... 'wow'. It's helped immensely to hear those things.

"He's always been a good lad. He's achieved so much. He's never disappointed. We were best mates as well as father and son. We drank together, rode motorbikes together, we travelled together, we even fought together."

And while it had been tough for Derek, he said it had been perhaps even more hard for Jade, who had found out the news first.

"Jade lives down the road, and she phoned me," recalled Derek. "She said 'can you come round, it's about Keith'. I said 'what's he done now?' He was always getting up to something. She said 'you need to come to the house so I can explain.'

"I thought if he's been in an accident it can't be serious because the police would come to the house. But when I got to Jade's I could see the police car outside her house, and that's when I knew.

"The first reports said it was a collision with a lorry but it wasn't. He did a manoeuvre to avoid hitting the back trailer, then lost control and hit the barriers. Nobody was at fault."

A young Keith Ashburn takes on a larger karate opponent. The age and weight category rules would be changed after the photo.
A young Keith Ashburn takes on a larger karate opponent. The age and weight category rules would be changed after the photo.

Keith is survived by father Derek, sister Laura and mum Christine.

Keith’s funeral will be held on Friday, October 29, the cortège leaving his home at Birchwood Park Avenue at 10.15am, and heading to Kemnal Park Crematorium for the funeral at 11am.

Afterwards there will be a wake at the Lullingstone pub in Swanley starting about 12-12.30pm.

All are welcome to come and the family will ask for donations to a charity to be confirmed, rather then flowers.

Those attending are asked to wear lime green/orange, even if it’s just a touch, as these were Keith’s favourite colours.

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