Chester review of 2017: The stories that made the headlines from January to June

Reporter:

David Triggs

JANUARY

The new year dawned with a mixture of weird and wonderful stories, setting the tone for the rest of 2017.

Visitors to Chester Zoo were given a surprise when a Sumatran orangutan escaped from its enclosure and went on a wander.

Eyewitness Chris Cousens, from Hoole, said: “My partner Sarah said ‘I can see an orangutan and it isn’t where it should be’. It was up towards the ceiling, quite high up.”

The young escapee was quickly ushered back to its enclosure by zoo staff.

There was a welcome return at Chester Cathedral as a holy icon which had been stolen in 2014 was rededicated at a special ceremony.

Religious painting the Rising of Lazarus was taken from the cathedral by Latvian-born Vasilijs Apilats, 61, of Crewe, who was jailed for nine months for the theft. Cathedral representatives and two police officers attended a short ceremony to rededicate the icon back into its rightful place.

Elsewhere, city MP Chris Matheson issued a fresh call to the Government to get former army sniper Ray Tindall, of Newton, and five colleagues released from jail in India where they were being held on weapons charges.

“The Chennai Six are in prison for a crime they did not commit,” said Mr Matheson.

FEBRUARY

Some big stories dominated the news in February as Storm Doris battered the country.

The high winds saw Cheshire Police respond to more than 500 incidents. Parts of Chester city centre had to be cordoned off following reports of tiles flying off roofs, while a tree came crashing down on a pharmacy van in Hoole.

A storm was also brewing for councillor Mike Jones as Cheshire police began an investigation into his spending while he was leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council. The Conservative Tattenhall councillor defended his use of a council credit card to pay for food and drink, transportation and hotels, saying his “conscience was clear”.

A new Chester trampoline centre made national headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Three people visited A&E at the Countess of Chester on the same night with spinal injuries sustained at Flip Out Chester.

Flip Out defended their “excellent” overall safety record, but the injuries led to medics from the Countess meeting bosses from the trampoline centre, while CWaC launched its own investigation.

Meanwhile, Chester’s new £37m theatre complex was taking shape. A huge sign bearing its name – Storyhouse – was hoisted into position in February.

MARCH

Tragedy struck at Chester FC’s derby against Tranmere Rovers at the Swansway Stadium.

Lifelong Blues fan Garry Allen, 56, collapsed and died on the Harry McNally Terrace shortly before kick-off

A statement from Garry’s family said he was “going to be sadly missed every day by all who knew him.” The result – a 3-2 defeat for Chester – was academic in the circumstances.

The issue of parking in Chester was never far away from the headlines in 2017, and in March city businesses urged the council to adopt a positive parking strategy – saying their futures depended on it.

A letter by Carl Critchlow, manager of the city’s business improvement district group CH1ChesterBID, backed the Free After 3 scheme, adding: “We believe more spaces, better facilities and greater choice is essential for our city to flourish.”

Meanwhile, the Boundary Commission announced a review into Cheshire West and Chester boundaries – meaning six councillors would lose their seats.

APRIL

Work on the new-look Frodsham Street was finally completed – but not everyone was happy.

While described by the council as an “attractive new gateway” to the city centre, some residents blasted the finished product as “horrendous” and “cheap” on social media. The project was meant to take six months but overran considerably, to the dismay of traders on the street who claimed to be losing customers.

There was shock news for the country when Prime Minister Theresa May announced she intended to call a snap General Election in June.

Chester’s Labour MP – Chris Matheson – came out all guns blazing, saying: “Having promised time and time again that there wouldn’t be a General Election, Theresa May is now putting party before country.”

The MP added: “I have a strong record in Chester. My constituents know I stand up for them and I intend to win.”

Meanwhile, crowds of people packed the city centre for the annual St George’s Day parade, turning Chester into a pageant of colour and sound.

MAY

The long wait was finally over as the curtain came up on Chester’s glittering new theatre complex.

The £37m project – which also contains a cinema, a library, a cafe/restaurant and a bar – was given its official opening at a special ceremony which saw hundreds of children form a human chain surrounded by musicians, dancers and storytellers.

Storyhouse’s theatre opened on May 11, with a production of musical comedy The Beggar’s Opera. Construction work had begun just over two years earlier, in February 2015.

Elsewhere, tributes were paid to a “much-loved” Cheshire police officer killed in the terror attack in Manchester.

Detective Constable Elaine McIver, 43, was one of the 22 victims of the suicide bombing at Manchester Arena on May 22. Mourners lined the streets when the funeral of Det Con McIver, who lived in Frodsham, was held at Chester Cathedral in July.

The month also saw Cheshire police launch an investigation into a number of deaths of babies at the Countess of Chester Hospital. The force carried out the probe following a greater number of baby deaths and collapses than expected between June 2015 and June 2016.

On the sporting scene, almost 6,000 runners took to the streets for the 36th Essar Chester Half Marathon, while over at Chester Racecourse the annual May Festival was basked in stunning sunshine.

Jockey Oisin Murphy rode Montaly to victory in the showpiece race of the three-day festival, the Chester Cup.

JUNE

Chester was expected to be one of the most closely-fought seats in the General Election – but it resulted in a landslide victory for Labour incumbent Chris Matheson.

Mr Matheson, who had defeated Tory Stephen Mosley by a margin of just 93 votes in 2015, won with a majority of almost 10,000, a staggering result.

“It has been quite an extraordinary night and one I imagine most of us did not predict the outcome of,” said the MP when the result of the count was announced at about 4.30am. Actor and comedian Steve Coogan had earlier visited Chester to lend his support.

Nationally, the governing Conservative Party won the most seats – but lost its majority.

Just a few weeks after the opening of Storyhouse, another long-awaited project was opened.

The new £13m bus interchange at Gorse Stacks replaced the old station at Princess Street. It featured an eco-friendly roof covered in sedum plants – but would soon be the source of some controversy.

In other news, a hapless cat was ‘feline relieved’ after firefighters rescued him from a tree in front of 150 primary school children.

Jeremy the cat got stuck in branches 40 feet high near St Werburgh’s and St Columba’s Catholic Primary School in Hoole.

It was only when the fire service arrived that station manager Paul Rowlands – later dubbed ‘the cat whisperer’ – managed to entice the pet to within reach of his ladder with a tin of tuna several hours later.

“All’s well that ends well,” the school spokesman said. “It was the purr-fect outcome!”

Email:

david.triggs@nwn.co.uk

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