WE’ve had it all in St Helens in 2011. Chris Amery takes a look at some of the stories making the headlines.
n ST Helens sporting legend Ray French was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List. The TV commentator, known as the voice of rugby league, was one of few forwards to be capped for his country in both rugby codes.
n SHOCKING photos of rotting animal carcasses and a monkey kept alone in a cramped cage sparked an investigation at Knowsley Safari Park. The images, taken by the park’s former press photographer, also included photos of dead deer and bison and a baboon stuffed in a bin bag.
n FORMER St Helens Reporter worker Phillip Blakemore was left stranded in Thailand fighting for his life after suffering a massive double stroke while on a dream holiday with his wife. A mistake on the Saints fan’s insurance form left his family struggling to afford the spiralling hospital fees and the cost of flying him home. Tragically, the 76-year-old passed away after a spirited battle for survival before he could be flown back home.
n A JILTED boyfriend who repeatedly stabbed his ex girlfriend’s grandparents in a terrifying drunken rage was jailed for a minimum of 11 years. Chillingly, Jonathon McCann, of Cowley Hill Lane, told one of his victims “you’re going to die and my face will be the last you see”.
n CHAMPION boxer turned actor Gary Stretch paid a flying visit to his hometown to promote St Helens’ very own Hollywood-style hall of fame. But, at the launch of the St Helens Discovers public art event, he was also keen to promote his boxing documentary which refers to the ring as The Safest Place On Earth.
n WORRIED parents slammed “short sighted” cuts to St Helens’ Sure Start childrens centres. Council chiefs confirmed in March that the borough’s early intervention programme had to be “reduced” because of a 23 per cent cut in grants from Westminster.
n INSPIRATIONAL soldiers, ex-rugby stars, top athletes and plenty of fund-raising fun runners all lined up for the inaugural St Helens 10K event. Braving chilly conditions, nearly 700 runners set off on the undulating town centre course after Mayor of St Helens Neil Taylor sent them on their way.
n ST Helens author Frank Cottrell Boyce was asked to pen a new series of children’s books featuring the famous magical flying car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But the Rainhill writer admitted he had “no idea” why the family of the original author, James Bond creator Ian Fleming, asked him to take on the coveted role.
n A TUNEFUL St Helens football team announced their bid to break an obscure world record. But it wasn’t for the number of goals scored, clean sheets kept, saves made or tackles completed. St Helens Combination team Junction FC wanted to enter the record books for the sheer number of sponsorship logos on their shirts!
n POLITICAL leaders launched a campaign to protect Whiston and St Helens Hospitals from the threat of privatisation. The town’s MPs warned of the potential pitfalls for patients after a leaked report discussed the possibility of “major reconfiguration and service change including a joint venture with the private sector”.
n MORE than a dozen street parties were held across St Helens to celebrate the Royal Wedding. Many of the borough’s neighbourhoods joined forces to mark the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton, after the day was confirmed as a public holiday.
n A SUPER-slimmer who completed an Olympic-length triathlon after shedding five stone in nine weeks set himself an even more ambitious target. Father-of-three Mike Hughes used to binge daily on high-fat junk food.
n A MOVING tribute was paid to larger-than-life groundworker John Blackburn after the 32-year-old fell to his death from a bridge over the St Helens Linkway. John’s heartbroken partner, Kevin Foster, described the ex-Haydock High pupil as “a perfectionist in everything he did” and “one in a million”.
n TOWN Hall chiefs condemned thieves who stole the crown off St Helens’ historic Queen Victoria monument. The statue, which sits in Victoria Square, was originally unveiled in 1905 before being given a makeover in the late 1990s.
n A MIRACLE cat survived after being shot in the face with a crossbow. Eight-year-old tom Spike was rushed to Alder Hey Veterinary Hospital after horrified residents found him stumbling around his native Sutton with a 12-inch crossbow bolt embedded in his face. Fortunately, after four hours of emergency surgery and days of round-the-clock treatment, Spike recovered at home - but with just eight of his nine lives intact.
n TOWN Hall bosses agreed to ban any new fast food takeaways from opening near St Helens schools - in a bid to tackle the borough’s growing obesity problem. Members of St Helens Council’s cabinet agreed to create 400m fast food exclusion zones around every single school in the borough.
See our next edition for a review of the second half of 2011.