Reunited with the man who saved his life

By Sandy Rashty, February 6, 2014
Jonny Benjamin (left) with Neil Laybourn

Jonny Benjamin (left) with Neil Laybourn

When former JFS student Jonny Benjamin launched a national search to track down the man who saved his life, he never expected it would succeed.

Mr Benjamin set up the "Find Mike" campaign last month, searching for the unknown man who had stopped him jumping off Waterloo Bridge six years ago.

The stranger had been passing by when Mr Benjamin, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder — a form of schizophrenia — climbed over the railings, ready to throw himself off.

The nameless man stopped, talked to him and managed to persuade him back onto the pavement.

Now 26, Mr Benjamin said his search for the man he had dubbed “Mike” was “like finding a needle in a haystack. He could have been anywhere in the world. I really didn’t expect to find him.”

He acknowledged that he had started his campaign primarily to “raise awareness of suicide and mental health”.

But only two days after news of his search was released, Mike — aka personal trainer Neil Laybourn — came forward.

The two men embraced in an emotional reunion last week.

“I had thought about Jonny over the years and had always hoped he was OK,” said Mr Laybourn, a 31-year-old from Surrey who decided to make himself known after his fiancée saw the campaign on Facebook.

He added: “It is clear how much that encounter on the bridge meant to Jonny. He told me it was a pivotal moment in his life.

“I didn’t feel it was that big a deal, I did what anyone would do. I wasn’t trying to fix his problems that day — I just listened.

“Jonny is one of the nicest people I have ever met. We’ll definitely stay in touch.”

Mr Benjamin, who since his first encounter with Neil has gone on to get a degree in drama and work for mental health charities, including the Jewish Association for the Mentally Ill, said the reunion finally gave him “closure”.

He said: “That day has gone full circle — it wasn’t such a negative, it was the day of my recovery.”

Mr Benjamin,a member of Edgware Reform Synagogue, is now making a film about his search for Mr Laybourn with the Rethink Mental Illness charity.

It is due to be released in April.

Last updated: 12:41pm, February 6 2014