Little to cheer us in the first few months

IN THE first part of The Journal’s Review of the Year, Audrey Barton looks back at the stories which made the headlines in January to March.

In the first part of The Journal’s Review of the Year, Audrey Barton looks back at the stories which made the headlines in January to March.


On New Year’s Day we reported how a whistleblower paramedic spoke of the “game of chess” he claimed ambulance bosses were playing with patients’ lives every day.

The blue-light worker said a long-running dispute over pay, which meant ambulance crews were not disturbed during meal breaks, was an absolute disgrace which has resulted in “loss of life or delays causing unnecessary suffering”.

The following day a North Tyneside family told of their lucky escape when a 35ft tree came crashing down on to their home during gale-force winds as bad weather caused chaos around the region.

On January 4 we ran the shocking story of three children who were attacked by a bull terrier-type dog in one day in West Denton, Newcastle.

The attacks came a day after five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson was mauled to death by her uncle’s dog in her grandmother’s home at St Helens, Merseyside.

Two days later inspirational Josie Grove came face to face with Journal columnist David Banks, 58, who also suffered leukaemia and sparked a region-wide fundraising campaign that raised thousands in her honour.

The 16-year-old moved the nation after deciding to turn her back on treatment for leukaemia in order to spend time with her family.

On January 9 a brave schoolgirl who lost part of her leg in a hit-and-run crash made national headlines after she sat in court to watch the man who killed Paula Stead, one of her family, and left her severely disabled brought to justice.

The story sent shockwaves across the country when Danica Green confronted Alan Steel, 26, and screamed “I hate you” at Steel after he was jailed indefinitely at Newcastle Crown Court.

The Journal newsroom was left reeling when our own sub-editor Christine Harle was brutally attacked in an underground car park after leaving work on Thursday, January 12.

Our long-standing colleague was left with serious facial injuries which needed surgery by the man who stole her bag.

The Journal offered a £5,000 reward to help catch her attacker who was caught and appeared in court days later.

Three days later scientists in the North-East claimed to have found a cure for the deadly hospital superbug MRSA.

Researchers led by Newcastle University professor Malcolm Young and his company, e-Therapeutics Newcastle, said it had identified three drugs that kill the bug which is blamed for thousands of hospital deaths each year.

On January 17 we featured the tragic story of Ben Stirland, 13, of Consett Road, Castleside in County Durham, who died in a freak accident after choking on a pen top while doing his homework.

It later emerged that it took paramedics 12 minutes to reach him from 10 miles away as the team closest to the address was on a meal break and was left uninterrupted because of the continuing dispute between the North-East Ambulance Service and union officials.

Two days later we reported how farmers forced out of business by the foot-and-mouth crisis were suing the Government for £40m over alleged failings by a state vet from the North-East.

They lodged a High Court claim against the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

We reported exclusively how Tony Blair’s agent said the Prime Minister had branded Labour councillors in his own constituency “idiots” after they refused to back a massive investment in facilities for his home village.

The claim was made by John Burton – Mr Blair’s loyal aide in Sedgefield – after it emerged he is being investigated over claims he threatened colleagues with de-selection if they didn’t back the plan for new housing.

Years of waiting ended when the Byker Wall in Newcastle was listed among the top 5% of buildings in the country on January 22.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced that the landmark housing development overlooking the Tyne and which dominates the skyline in the east of the city was to be Grade II-star listed.

On January 23 an international manhunt was launched for a convicted paedophile who fled to the Philippines with his internet bride to avoid being jailed.

Former teacher Ronald Heron sexually abused four Northumberland children between the ages of 11 and 14 during the 1970s and 80s, but left the country through Durham Tees Valley airport. He later returned and was jailed.

The following day we ran a front-page picture showing incriminating mobile phone footage of killer Scott Nichols declaring himself a “murderer” just days after knifing his victim to death.

Police recovered the mobile phone and he was sent to jail for a minimum of 22 years for murdering an amateur photographer for his camera.

On January 30, we ran a four-page spread on the life and crimes of disturbed former soldier David Bradley who admitted killing four of his family in a house-of-horrors gun massacre nine years after first telling doctors he wanted to kill.

Bradley pleaded guilty at Newcastle Crown Court to the manslaughter of his aunt and uncle Josie and Peter Purcell, and cousins Keith and Glen Purcell in July 2006.


In February a study ranked Newcastle as the noisiest place in Britain.

Bosses at the city council reacted angrily to the report which rated the Tyne Bridge as the noisiest spot in the country.

On February 3 we reported the horrific story of how a former bouncer who murdered his ex-girlfriend in a frenzied knife attack at the hair salon where she worked was jailed for life.

Brian Whitfield, 44, from Gateshead, stabbed mother-of-three Sharon Bell, 38, more than 20 times in May 2006, two months after she ended their four-and-a-half-year relationship.

Members of the jury were reduced to tears as they listened to a tape of her being stabbed.

Four days later what appeared to be a savvy business move turned into a nightmare for property speculator Julian Fernandes who was set to watch his £70,000 investment be bulldozed after a council mapping blunder.

The 37-year-old bought an end-terraced home in Boldon Colliery, South Tyneside, after finding out about the regeneration scheme for the area – after first checking it was not to be demolished. Unfortunately it was.

On February 9 The Journal had an air of regality about it as it emerged that a retired engineer has one of the strongest claims on the English throne.

Albert Turnbull, 70, of Whickham, Gateshead, is related to King Alfred and William the Conqueror.

Three days later we revealed thousands of elderly and disabled people across Northumberland were facing increases in the charges they pay for care services to help the county council tackle a potential £2m budget shortfall.

The recommended rises include hikes for home care, meals on wheels and the charge for transport to and from day care.

The following day we exclusively told the story of North-East family doctors’ claims that they were the victims of a Government smear campaign over NHS funding.

Eight prominent GPs claimed the Government was undermining them with claims they make too much money – and paving the way for more privatised services.

On Valentine’s Day we told the alarming story of how vandals created a potential timebomb at a Northumberland play school by releasing propane gas around the building.

Tearful children were turned away from the Friendly Frog Playgroup in Shilbottle, near Alnwick, after staff found the building’s gas supply had been tampered with overnight.

Two days later we reported how a mother said she feared being sent to jail after becoming the first parent in the North-East to prosecuted for taking a child on holiday during school time.

Mandy Hopwood, of Dalton Crescent, Shildon, County Durham, asked teachers at Timothy Hackworth Primary School for permission to take her six-year-old son, Brad, to Disneyland Paris for five days. When they refused, she went ahead anyway.

On February 17 we reported how a woman who was asked to choose between her unborn child or her job had won her case against her former bosses at a North-East nightspot.

Tribunal judges ruled that Angela Hildreth, of Western Drive in Grainger Park, Newcastle, had been constructively, wrongfully and unfairly dismissed by Perdu Bar and restaurant in Newcastle.

Two days later we reported the tragic accident which left a teenager’s family devastated after he was knocked down and killed while crossing a busy dual carriageway.

Sixteen-year-old Scott Waters was struck by a car on the A167, near the Town Moor in Newcastle.

The Journal’s Bad Blood campaign backed a woman whose husband died after being treated with contaminated blood in her quest for an independent inquiry.

On February 20 Carol Grayson was victorious after an independent inquiry into the treatment scandal – which caused the death of her haemophiliac husband Peter Longstaff – was announced.

On the same day we ran the latest twist in the long-running meal breaks saga as ambulance crews dramatically rejected a solution to the dispute which meant paramedics would not be called to emergencies during their lunch breaks.

Union leaders had urged crews to accept an offer of £35 for each meal break disturbed by a 999 call in a bid to end the 18-month row but it was refused.

We ran the shocking story of how workers were exposed to asbestos at a North-East school – after a report warning of the danger had not been passed on.

Contractors at Wallsend Jubilee Primary School – formerly Wallsend Jubilee First – cut through asbestos-covered pipes in the roof of the building.

The Journal’s courageous campaigner Josie Grove proudly handed over her first £10,000 donation to the Northern Institute of Cancer Research.

The 16-year-old, who was diagnosed with terminal leukaemia in 2005, donated the total – boosted by generous Journal readers – towards research into the disease at the Newcastle School of Medicine which we features on February 23.

Sadly just five days later we broke the news that Josie had died in the way she had wanted, at home, surrounded by her family.

The teenager had touched the hearts of people across the country with her courageous, inspirational and dignified fight against the disease which eventually took her so young.


We reported how a major drug dealer jetted into the North-East to personally gun down a man in a public car park before flying to Spain, as the case was heard at Newcastle Crown Court.

David ‘Noddy’ Rice, 42, of St Vincent Street, South Shields, was shot nine times by two masked men on the seafront at Marsden, South Tyneside, after being lured there by Steven Bevens, 39, who worked for gunman Allan Foster, a drug dealer originally from South Tyneside.

On March 2 we revealed how a millionaire businesswoman who worked in the North-East was jailed for eight years for plotting to kill her former lover and his new wife.

Carol Ann Hunter, 50, could not accept that Colin Love, 59, her partner of 22 years and the father of her two children, had fallen in love with another woman.

Tragedy struck and left the tight-knit North-East community of Hebburn in mourning when four members of a young family were killed in a crash on the A1.

The couple and their two children died when their car left the road in North Yorkshire.

On March 6 the nation followed the case of a 68-year-old Northumberland grandmother who “passionately” believes in using cannabis to relieve pain as she went before a judge and jury charged with growing and possessing the drug.

Pensioner Patricia Tabram was later ordered to do 250 hours’ community work and pay £1,000 costs for being convicted of possessing and growing the drug.

Eight days later the parents of a North-East man held hostage for nearly two weeks in Ethiopia spoke of their relief at his release from captivity.

Malcolm Smart, whose parents live in Newcastle, was one of five people in a British Embassy group kidnapped while on a tourist trip to an isolated geological site on March 1.

On March 15 Blue Peter apologised to viewers for faking results of a phone-in competition.

Nearly 14,000 children entered the contest to win a toy on the BBC1 show – but none of them were chosen.

The following day we reported the touching story of teenager Rachel Armstrong who fell seriously ill with anorexia but was able to recover thanks to her devoted mother Glynis. She repaid her by entering her into GMTV’s Britain’s Best Mum competition where she made the final four.

Three days later, on the eve of the anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, families of North soldiers killed in Iraq said that the Government had betrayed their fallen children.

In a damming criticism of the Government, they said they could not understand why our troops were there and that “nothing” positive had been achieved by the invasion.

On March 23 we gave a voice to more than half the people in a Northumberland town who objected to plans they say would “rip the heart” out of its centre.

Six thousand people in Prudhoe signed a petition opposing a development that included a new supermarket and 180 homes.

The following day we revealed the mystery of Newcastle Airport chief executive John Parkin being suspended.

Airport bosses announced he would be stopped from his day-to-day duties with immediate effect due to “certain personal contractual issues”.

The news shocked unsuspecting airport staff arriving at work.

On March 29 we reported a warning from dentists in the North-East that more of them will leave the National Health Service with the first anniversary of the controversial dental contract looming.

The British Dental Association in the North-East called for the new contracts – brought in on April 1 2006 – to be scrapped.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer