Chester review of 2017: The stories that made the headlines from July to December

Reporter:

David Triggs

JULY

The city was united in grief when the funeral of an off-duty police officer killed in the Manchester terror attack took place at Chester Cathedral.

DC Elaine McIver, 43, of Frodsham, was laid to rest in a poignant service.

Those inside the cathedral were moved by spontaneous applause from the crowds of people who came to pay their respects outside.

In other news, controversial plans for the future of parking in Chester were rubber stamped by the council – spelling the end for the Free After 3 scheme.

Carl Critchlow, manager of business group CH1ChesterBID, led opposition to proposals, saying they would be a “hammer blow” to Chester.

Traders at Chester Market and the Forum shopping centre also spoke out, explaining how business was already struggling as a result of the old Princess Street bus station being replaced by a new interchange at Gorse Stacks – deterring some shoppers.

Meanwhile, a dead calf preserved in formaldehyde formed the striking centrepiece of a modern art exhibition at Chester Cathedral. Damien Hirst’s False Idol was one of the big talking points at the Ark Exhibition, which included 90 works by 50 renowned artists.

Chester Castle was reopened thanks to a campaign spearheaded by City of Chester MP Chris Matheson, who said he’d had to “knock a few heads together” to make it happen.

It formed the focal point for a major Pokemon Go! event which brought hundreds of Pokemon players to the city.

AUGUST

Chester was awash with all the colours of a rainbow as hundreds descended on the city for the annual Pride festival.

The event, celebrating diversity and the LGBT+ community, was held in Castle Square and there was music from acts including B*Witched, Sonia and Saffron from Republica.

There was shock at the news almost 800 drivers had been caught by an average speed camera on the border of Flintshire and Chester in the three months since its installation.

A Freedom of Information revealed the camera on the A548 Sealand Road had caught 796 motorists going beyond the 50mph speed limit.

Cllr Christine Jones said: “I knew it was a lot but that’s immense. It proves that the camera was needed.”

Budding stars of tomorrow queued up to earn a place on Britain’s Got Talent when the regional auditions came to Chester.

Entertainers of all ages and abilities descended on the Forum shopping centre, including performer Irene Pearce who brought her very own ‘backing group’ with her – a toy parrot named George.

August was also a big month for hundreds of schoolchildren across the city, as GCSE and A-level results were announced.

SEPTEMBER

The month was marred by tragedy as a teenager died in a fall from a car park roof in Chester city centre.

Tom Hollman, 16, of Malpas, died from a head injury sustained after falling from the roof of the NCP Pepper Street car park. A JustGiving crowdfunding appeal was launched by a family friend to raise £3,500 for the teenager’s funeral costs.

There was frustration on the roads as issues with a sinkhole on the A41 Whitchurch Road rolled into a third month.

The hole, which opened up in July, required complex work but it spelled bad news for motorists using the busy route in and out of Chester every day.

“We are working hard to find a solution,” promised Cllr Karen Shore.

Former Cheshire West and Chester Council leader Mike Jones was cleared of any wrongdoing over the use of a council credit card. However, an internal review also concluded a total of £459.64 spent on alcohol was “not in the spirit” of expenses claims and should be paid back.

And it was the end of an era for The Disney store in Chester, which closed after a quarter of a century on the city high street.

OCTOBER

Tributes were paid to an “inspirational” runner who died during the Chester Marathon.

Father-of-three Trevor Cording, 50, of Acton Bridge, Northwich, collapsed during the 16.3 mile metric version of the race and passed away at the Countess of Chester Hospital.

Describing him as “no ordinary bloke”, a spokesman for his club – Northwich RC – said he was both humble and extremely encouraging to his fellow runners.

October also saw the death of Jordan Avery, 17, who was hit by a train on the Chester-Shotton line close to Walls Avenue.

Friends and family held a vigil in Grosvenor Park in memory of the teenager, who they said would be “greatly missed.”

There was drama at the Groves as a hero boat skipper plucked an eight-month-old baby girl from the River Dee with one hand.

Quick-thinking Paul Blessing, 44, pulled the baby on to the deck of the Lady Diana pleasure boat after seeing her pram roll along the path and into the river.

“I reached in and felt like Britain’s Strongest Man as I pulled the pram up to the stage with one hand,” said Paul.

Chester had its very own Apprentice candidate in the form of budding entrepreneur Andrew Brady.

The 26-year-old, from Vicars Cross, competed with 17 others for Lord Sugar’s coveted £250,000 investment prize – but was fired eight weeks into the 13-part TV series.

“It’s a very intense process but you learn a lot about yourself,” admitted Andrew.

NOVEMBER

The family of a Chester mum battling cancer were overwhelmed by love and support from people across the world.

Nicola Hitchen, 41, from Great Boughton, desperately needed to raise £50,000 in order to continue potentially life-saving treatment in Turkey.

Since we published her story in November, her JustGiving page rocketed from about £6,000 to almost £30,000 in a couple of weeks – before smashing through the £50,000 barrier soon after.

Two issues which were never far away from the news in 2017 – parking and fracking – featured prominently this month.

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s parking plan, which included axing Free After 3, was published and drew plenty of flak, forcing council leader Samantha Dixon to issue a statement blaming cuts to local authority funding on some of the decisions made.

“Austerity impacts on every single decision we make,” said Cllr Dixon.

Meanwhile, Chester MP Chris Matheson joined protesters at an anti-fracking rally and march in Ellesmere Port.

He told the crowd: “We’re ahead at the moment. We’ve got the people on our side and we’ve got the momentum behind us.”

There was also the bizarre story of a man who was sacked from his job promoting Chester’s Christmas market because he wore an “inappropriate” Guy Fawkes mask.

The man, who was employed by Marketing Cheshire to stand at The Cross with a sign pointing shoppers towards the market, was promptly fired when his bosses find out he was wearing the mask, which is widely associated with anarchist protest organisations.

DECEMBER

The festive season began with some good news as Ray Tindall returned to Chester after spending four years in an Indian jail – where he was being held for a crime he did not commit.

The ex-soldier, 42, from Newton, was joined by Chester MP Chris Matheson in The Golden Eagle for a well-deserved pint after getting off the plane.

One of the ‘Chennai Six’, Ray was part of a group of men jailed in India in 2013 for ‘illegally’ possessing weapons while working for a private US-owned ship.

Mr Matheson was a driving force in the campaign to get the men freed.

Asked how it felt to finally be home, Ray replied: “I don’t know yet! It’s sort of overwhelming.”

There was some very sad news to report as much-loved fundraiser Billy Birch died, aged 76.

Billy, who lived in Ellesmere Port and raised more than £113,000 for good causes, including many in the Chester area, died after suffering multiple organ failure during surgery.

Billy’s son Mally said: “I can’t speak highly enough of him. I was proud to call him my dad.”

The year ended on a positive note as the fundraising team at the Countess of Chester Hospital announced they had smashed their £2.4m target for the Babygrow Appeal.

The money will pay for a new state-of-the-art neonatal unit more than twice the size of the current one.

Lesley Woodhead, head of fundraising, said: “We have had so much support from individuals, businesses and the community across Chester we are really grateful and could not have done it without you.”

Email:

david.triggs@nwn.co.uk

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