Review of the year: July - September

New era for United, but Rock crumbles The Journal’s review of the year continues today as Chloe Griffiths takes a look back at the stories that grabbed the headlines from July to September.

New era for United, but Rock crumbles The Journal’s review of the year continues today as Chloe Griffiths takes a look back at the stories that grabbed the headlines from July to September.


THE month started with business leaders urging Gordon Brown not to ignore the North-East in his consideration of a new North-South rail link.

The North-East Chamber of Commerce sent a stark warning to the Prime Minister that the link was crucial to the future economy of the region – and the very next day Minister for the North-East Nick Brown promised to get things moving.

Praising The Journal’s Go For Jobs campaign, Nick Brown said high-quality services on the East Coast rail line and improvements to the road network were among his priorities.

By July 4, controversy was raging over a new artwork by North-East artist Gerald Laing.

His depiction of the 7/7 bombings, which from a different angle showed US president George Bush and the bombings in Iraq, were slammed as insensitive by the relatives of survivors from the atrocity.

The next day the headlines were stolen by Chris Mort, the newly-appointed deputy chief executive at Newcastle United.

Mike Ashley’s right-hand man spoke to The Journal to promise that manager Sam Allardyce would get the time, money and support to succeed.

He said Ashley would remain largely anonymous, but was determined to reduce the club’s debts and get the team climbing up the table.

On July 6, The Journal told how the three-year-old daughter of a North-East oil worker had been kidnapped in the troubled southern region of Nigeria.

Margaret Hill was snatched by gunmen as she was being driven to school.

Her father Michael Hill had moved to the African country about 10 years previously from his home in County Durham.

The following day Mr Hill’s wife Oluchi revealed the gunman had called Mr Hill threatening to kill their child unless he took her place, but a day later Mr Hill’s North-East family were overjoyed when they received a text message from him to say Margaret had been released unhurt.

On July 11, we reported on the start of a high-profile court case involving Frenchwoman Anna Smirnoff, 49, accused of harassing a North-East psychologist for more than 15 years, bombarding him with up to 480 emails in a month.

She was also accused of a campaign of abuse against his colleagues, before making allegations to the Queen, Tony Blair, children’s charities and newspapers. A jury took less than an hour to convict her following a two-week trial.

On July 17, the headlines were again dominated by Newcastle United following a police raid on St James’s Park the previous day as part of an investigation into allegations of corruption.

The investigation of the ground by experts from the City of London’s Police economic crime unit was one of five carried out simultaneously.

A statement from Newcastle United insisted the club itself was not under investigation, while sources said the inquiry was focusing on a series of transfers, which had previously been questioned in former Metropolitan Police Chief Lord Stevens’ Quest

On July 21, we reported how a teenage driver was jailed for four years after she caused a crash which led to the death of a grandmother.

Rachel Begg, of Ponteland in Northumberland, drove into the back of grandmother Maureen Waites’ car as she sent text messages to her boyfriend. Newcastle Crown Court heard the 19-year-old had used her phone nine times in 15 minutes after leaving her boyfriend’s house.

And on July 25, The Journal told how Freddie Shepherd’s time at St James’s Park was brought to an end.

The long-standing chairman, whose stewardship dated back to 1997, severed all ties with the club after it was revealed that Chris Mort had replaced him in United’s most senior position.

Meanwhile, scandal broke out on July 27, when we reported how a computer blunder had leaked the details of 54,000 credit and debit card holders.

The breach was branded one of the worst security blunders in local government history. Financial experts were brought in to investigate the leak from Newcastle Civic Centre after details of some 1.5 million account records and two million transactions were found to have been downloaded to a computer traced to the Middle East.


ON August 4, we reported how rural communities across the North-East were holding their breath following the news that foot-and-mouth was back.

Cattle on a farm near Guildford in Surrey were to be culled after the discovery of the outbreak and a ban on livestock movement was imposed. The news sparked fears of a repeat of the disastrous 2001 crisis, which led to nearly 10 million animals being killed.

The following day the headlines turned to Stephen McKenzie, who spoke exclusively to The Journal following the death of his partner Samantha Madgin.

The 18-year-old was knifed to death following a street incident in Wallsend, North Tyneside, just 10 weeks after giving birth to the couple’s son Callum.

On August 8, we reported on an inquest which revealed that rats had caused a massive explosion that killed a pensioner.

The hearing at North Shields heard that the rodents had gnawed through gas pipes at the home of Moira Dickson, causing the leak which had created a “perfect” mix of gases in her home.

The 80-year-old was found dead in the rubble following the blast in May 2006, while her partner, 65-year-old Joe Cairns, suffered severe burns.

By August 9, fears over foot-and-mouth had subsided, with the Government’s chief vet Debby Reynolds announcing a relaxation on the restrictions on animal movement.

The following day we told the tragic tale of an elderly couple who were preparing to sell their home to pay for the drugs their son needed to battle cancer.

Ken and Irene Potts, both 78, of Blyth in Northumberland, made the heart-breaking decision after being told their son Ken would not get a life-extending drug on the NHS.

The 54-year-old, who was terminally ill with kidney cancer, was denied the £3,300 a month “magic bullet” drug Sunitinib (corr) because he had already received other drug courses.

On August 15, we broke the exclusive story that stabbing victim Samantha Madgin’s family had suffered another tragedy.

In a cruel twist of fate, the uncle of 18-year-old Samantha was killed on a crash on the A19. Just two months early Gary Madgin, 41, had discovered his eldest daughter would be expecting his first grandchild.

Father-of-two Lee Harris was kicked up to 30 times by a gang of thugs after he confronted them in the street. The 29-year-old Gateshead window cleaner was left in a coma for a month and needed hospital treatment for a further two. His family were forced to move following the attack. Two of the gang were locked up and another was given a community punishment.

Yob culture was at the forefront of the headlines on August 21 when we told how off-duty policeman Tim Robson was confronted by a knife-wielding teenager as he cycled home from work.

The licensing officer for North Durham was threatened after he confronted a gang of youths who had shouted abuse at him.

Just two days later we revealed how a 24-year-old shop worker had suffered a miscarriage after armed robbers threatened her unborn child.

She told The Journal how she thought she was going to die during the attempted robbery at a Sunderland newsagent.

Street violence continued to dominate the news on August 24 when a 17-year-old suffered five puncture wounds to his lung after being stabbed, while the following day the North-East woke to the news that a 23-year-old man with learning difficulties was killed after suffering a savage beating at the hands of a teenage gang.

Brent Martin died after being half-stripped and beaten just yards from the home of his uncle in Sunderland.

Another story that grabbed the headlines at the end of the month was that of pregnant Fran Lyon.

The mother-to-be told The Journal she was considering having an abortion, despite being five months pregnant, amid fears her baby could be taken from her. The 22-year-old, of St Hilda’s Road, Hexham, feared she would have her child taken into care because of a personality disorder she suffered when she was 16.


HEADLINES in September started with a conman who had swindled thousands of pounds to live a luxury lifestyle and was spared prison.

Ronald Graham posed as a fine art and antiques dealer and lied to mortgage advisers to buy plush city-centre apartments, despite telling council officials he lived on incapacity benefits.

Graham, of Birtley Close in Gosforth, Newcastle, was given a suspended sentence, but ordered to pay back £60,000 in overpaid benefits.

Fears of a housing crisis were reported the following day, after it emerged house prices were rising faster in the North-East than anywhere else in the UK.

Figures showed property prices were rising four times quicker than salaries in the region, prompting union leaders and housing experts to warn houses could soon become unobtainable.

The former boss of Newcastle International Airport held the headlines the following day after we revealed he had been appointed as the head of another major regional airport. John Parkin was still the subject of on-going legal proceedings undertaken by the airport when he made the decision to join Leeds-Bradford Airport as their new chief executive.

Northumbria Police chief Mike Craik was the next public figure to make the news on September 7, after he called for the drinking age to be raised to 21 in Newcastle.

The high-profile police chief took the radical step after highlighting the issue of drink-fuelled violence.

On September 8, we told how George Henderson’s “perfect marriage” was shattered when his
wife plunged a kitchen knife into his chest as he sat eating his breakfast. Alison Henderson was jailed for 21 months following the attack, which came after 21 years of marriage and two children.

Mr Henderson told of his disbelief when his wife stabbed him, narrowly missing his heart: “She is not the woman I married.”

On September 13, patient safety was at the forefront when we revealed it was being put in jeopardy because of the outdated computer systems in the region’s hospitals.

A Commons health select committee had told how new patient records software would not be trialled until 2008, leaving hospitals with old systems.
It even emerged that one trust in the county had to find spare parts for their ageing system on internet auction site eBay because they were no longer available.

On September 15, a North-East institution was making the headlines – regional and national – for all the wrong reasons.

The news was dominated by the announcement that Northern Rock had been forced to secure emergency funding from the Bank of England to keep operating as normal.

The announcement led to a widespread crisis, with share prices plummeting and massive queues forming outside branches as hundreds of customers withdrew their savings.

The beleaguered bank dominated the headlines over the next week, nowhere more visibly than at The Journal as we launched our campaign urging people to stand solid with the Rock.

We asked people across the North-East to open an account with the North bank in a bid to show their recognition of its importance to the region and to show support for its 5,700 employees. Our campaign also highlighted the massive contribution that the Northern Rock Foundation had made to people across the region in its 10-year existence – giving £175m to 1,520 organisations. It became a story
that even now, months later, is still making the headlines.

In the wake of our calls, scores of high-profile figures and members of the public came forward to tell how they were standing by the mortgage bank, from Falcons and Newcastle United stars to vicars and the editor of The Journal.

Meanwhile The Journal was still telling all the other important North-East news.

On September 27, we told how a hero driver pulled an injured man from the burning wreckage of his car after being the first to come across a triple fatal crash.

Colin Seymour used a extinguisher from his own car before climbing into the still-smoking car to pull the victim out through the windscreen after the accident on the A1 in Northumberland. All three occupants of the other car were killed in the smash.

The month was brought to a close with North-East MPs demanding answers over how the region lost out on a prestige £1bn energy research project.

The region put forward an impressive bid to secure the project at Newcastle University, but the 10-strong group of judge opted to base the project in Loughborough, prompting questions from Minister for the North-East Nick Brown.


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