Ten years ago Ben Grocock told his mother that if she made him have an operation to remove his tonsils he would never speak again.

And, after coming round from the anaesthetic following surgery, the boy steadfastly stuck to his word - until now.

Ben Grocock, now aged 13, has barely uttered a word throughout most of his life, following the promise he made when he was just three years old.

For a decade he only communicated with his family, friends and teachers with scrawled notes and actions.

Now he has finally broken his self-imposed silence - thanks to a love of fire engines.

Shy Ben Grocock retreated into his mute world after being told that he needed an operation to remove his tonsils and adenoids.

The boy was so terrified that he told mum Linda that he would refuse to speak to her if she made him go under the knife.

He only began talking to his mother six years later in 2001 when a bike accident shocked him into speech.

But despite regular sessions with a speech therapist he still refused to talk to his other family or friends - until he went on a course with the fire brigade.

After a week learning about fire engines and how to use a hose, Ben broke his vow of silence to address a crowd of 30 people during a 'passing out' ceremony.

In front of an audience - including his grandmother Jenny Brant, 60, and granddad Tony Brant, 63 - he said "thank you" for the course.

Until that point his grandparents had NEVER heard him speak.

Tony 63, said: "It brought a huge lump to my throat, to hear his voice was just beautiful. "It was the first time I heard him speak and I could listen to him talk forever. We feared Ben would never speak again, but now he is chattering all the time.

"It is music to my ears, I just turn off the television and listen to him."

Ben's problems began as a baby when he suffered repeated sore throats and ear infections.

Doctors said he needed an operation to remove his tonsils and adenoids and surgery to put grommets in his ears.

The terrified three-year-old begged not to have the surgery and told Linda, 38, he would never speak to her again if she let it happen.

When he came round from the general anaesthetic at Basingstoke Hospital, Ben refused to talk to any of his family or friends.

He still spoke to his younger brother Sam, now, 12, but always out of earshot from the rest of his family.

Doctors diagnosed Ben with Selective Mutism, a rare anxiety disorder which leaves people incapable of speaking to anyone they don't feel totally comfortable with.

Shop worker Linda, of Liskeard, Cornwall, said: "It was very upsetting. He was only three and the doctors said he needed the operation.

"But Ben said if they put the needle in him he would not talk again.

"I never believed he would stick to that. But he was so traumatised by the whole experience he hasn't been able to talk properly to people in ten years.

"He is a very stubborn boy with incredible will-power. I think that once he got over the shock he was so deep into the habit of not speaking that he just couldn't anymore."

For six years he refused to talk to his devastated mother until a bike accident.

Linda said: "He first started speaking to me again after he fell off his bike, he said 'ouch, that hurt', in shock.

"Once he had it was like he broke the barrier with me and could carry on talking."

But he still couldn't talk to anyone else including his grandparents, teachers and friends until his school, Liskeard Community College, enrolled him on a confidence-building course with Cornwall Fire Brigade.

After a week with the officers Ben managed to thank the firefighters in front of a crowd.

Linda said: "He had always been a very affectionate boy, handing out hugs and things all the time, but he just couldn't work through the trauma, until now.

"I am so proud of him, I can't believe he managed to do it.

"We are still taking it one step at a time though. He is talking to most of his teachers and his grandparents as well.

"After going through ten birthdays in silence we just can't wait to celebrate his 14th in August."

Ben's breakthrough came thanks to firefighter Tim Cocks, from the Cornwall Fire Brigade Phoenix Project.

The course is a five-day course where youngsters learn team-building skills.

Tim said: "I was concerned to begin with because he wouldn't communicate at all, I thought he couldn't take part.

"After we explained that to him he agreed to speak just with me, then by the end of the week he was talking to everyone on the course.

"At the end of the course we had a passing out parade and Ben stood up and thanked everybody.

"It was the first time his grandparents had heard him speak in ten years, it was very emotional for everyone."