FOR decades, he was Preston’s most notorious vagrant - but the man dubbed ‘Toxic Terry’ has given up his solvent addiction and reinvented himself as a church-going Abba fan.
Terrence Ashcroft’s penchant for glue sniffing and drinking petrol led to him becoming homeless, jobless, jailed and eventually sectioned.
He became subject to various anti-social behaviour orders, banning him from possessing petrol or solvents, entering petrol stations or making nuisance 999 calls.
His behaviour has been a source of amusement to some, with more than 4,300 ‘fans’ on a spoof Facebook account. Hundreds follow a group called the Toxic Terry Fan Club.
But his actions had serious consequences in 2008 when he ended up in hospital after setting himself alight with a cigarette. And in 2014, fake stories of a similar untimely demise went viral online.
But Terry, 43, is alive and well – and starting a new life.
He said: “It doesn’t really bother me people call me Toxic Terry. For 20 years of my life, it was a nickname, I came to terms with it.
“But I want to tell people that’s the old Terry. It’s away with the old Terry and in with the new. I haven’t touched solvents in six years. Everybody is saying how well I look.
“I’ve been in the Evening Post for the wrong reasons. I want people to see I’m a new man.”
His recovery is partly thanks to being sectioned and kept in Guild Lodge psychiatric unit for four years. Although it was one of his lowest points, it was this stint in hospital that would eventually help him turn his life around.
Until his 20s, Terry led a fairly ordinary life. He was one of four children born to a working-class Lostock Hall couple.
His dad was the director of a car company in Aqueduct Street, Preston, while his mum was a cleaner.
He achieved six GCSEs at Lostock Hall High School and a City and Guilds in engineering.
Ready for a taste of independence, Terry left home at 18, got his own accommodation in Westcliff, Preston, and took up an apprenticeship at British Nuclear Fuels.
But he only lasted six months.
He explains: “I didn’t like it. I wanted to work with computers, or find something office based. I have always been fascinated by computers.”
At 19 he says he was still “leading a fairly ordinary life” embarking on a YTS course in Leyland.
He explains: “I didn’t try solvents until I was 25. It was all the rage in the 80s. My friends at that time were all doing it. It was just that buzz I got into. But I couldn’t stop.”
“I spent £20 to £30 on glue each week. That was a lot then. It was a big chunk of my income. But I have never stolen anything to feed my habit – I have never stolen at all.”
As Terry’s addiction spiralled out of control, he was unable to work and ended up living in a hostel.
But when the warden died, it closed, leaving him homeless and forced to sleep rough, often on Preston market.
He recalls: “That’s when I got into a rut like a lot of homeless people, I started drinking. It just became something to do in the day. And I got high.
“My family didn’t approve at all. I was isolated from them.
“But people in the city centre and in the homeless hostels all knew me. I used to talk to everyone, the people coming out of the clubs at night, anybody.”
Terry first taste of jail came after a public order incident. He had to work in the prison gardens at HMP Lancaster Farms and recalls: “ t was horrible - no-one threatened me but I hated being locked up. It was scary.”
It was the start of several jail terms, after the authorities imposed an ASBO to try to keep him on the straight and narrow - the city’s first court order banning someone sniffing glue and drinking petrol.
He says: “It was a real low for me. I didn’t see it as help. I just felt everyone wanted to chuck me in jail.
“It meant I had to go to Chorley to sniff glue. I don’t drive and it cost me a lot to keep travelling out of town to do it. Glue sniffing was not against the law but breaching the ASBO was.”
Terry was caught in possession of glue several times and eventually jailed.
After his release, he spent time living in Longridge but in 2011 he was sectioned and stayed in Guild Lodge as an informal patient
His mum had died three years earlier and while Terry was in hospital, his dad died.
He says it was tough but it changed him for the better, adding: “Everyone compliments me on how I look.
“I convinced them I was fit to go into society again.”
His typical day now is very different from ‘old Terry’s’.
He gets up at 8am at his supported flat in Fulwood, which he describes as a plain single room with a bed, furnished with posters of 80s bands.
He smiles as he explains: “I also like watching the Incredible Hulk. I’m obsessed with the 80s – it was a good era. I like Abba and Duran Duran.”
On a Sunday, Terry attends the city’s Methodist church.
Ironically, he enjoys courtroom-based TV shows like Judge Judy and Judge Rinder, and on many weekdays he walks to Preston Magistrates’ Court, where he himself has appeared so many times, and watches live cases from the public gallery.
Terry also frequents the market, chatting to stall holders and shoppers and treats himself to the occasional McDonald’s.
Until recently, he was studying a computer qualification which he has completed and is hoping to eventually get an office job.