England, United Kingdom

Latest Stories

Council says let there be light...

James Harrison

Local Democracy Reporter

Extra cash will be put aside for streetlights, potholes and community wardens, among a range of other initiatives, in County Durham’s spending plans for 2020-21.

The finance team has put up £31m for two years' worth of initiatives in the county to help hit climate change targets and for "sprucing up local communities".

And county bosses have insisted their generosity, which coincides with the council passing a quarter of a billion pounds worth of cuts since 2011, is not related to pending or previous elections.

“We know these are the things people want and this is the challenge on local government,” said Simon Henig, the leader of Durham County Council.

“We know people want more spending on towns and villages and neighbourhoods, but because of the pressures of adults’ and children’s social care it has left us frustrated and unable to do what the people want us to do.

“These are the things we would really like to be able to do on a permanent basis across County Durham.”

Simon Henig
Durham County Council

We know these are the things people want."

Simon HenigDurham County Council leader

Five teenagers charged with Camberwell estate murder

Clinton Evbota stabbing crime scene
Getty Images

Five teenagers have been charged with the murder of an 18-year-old man who was stabbed to death in Camberwell last year.

Clinton Evbota was one of 23 teenagers fatally stabbed in the capital in 2019 when he was attacked on the Brandon Estate on 10 October.

The Met Police say five teenagers including Rio Williams, 18, of Stockwell, have been charged with Mr Evbota's murder.

Mr Williams, a 17-year-old from Coulsdon, a 15-year-old from Camberwell and a 17-year-old from Camberwell will all appear at Bromley Magistrates' Court later today.

A fifth teenager, a 15-year-old boy from Camberwell, is due to appear at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court in County Durham.

Hospital plans 'not yet decided'

Local Democracy Reporting Service

James Harrison

"No decision" has been made on the future of Shotley Bridge Hospital, Durham County Council bosses have insisted.

It follows the approval last week of plans which could see services moved to the former site of Consett’s steelworks.

However, the North Durham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is behind proposals to overhaul health care in the area, claims other locations for a new hospital are still being considered.

A spokesman said: “The CCG is reviewing the future of Shotley Bridge Community Hospital and recently carried out a period of patient and stakeholder engagement, with a view to going out to public consultation sometime this year.

“Ahead of any public consultation, an independent exercise was carried out to look at potential sites in the area that would be suitable for a redevelopment and a shortlist of options is being compiled.

“This is to ensure that any future site meets the needs of the local population and to ensure its suitability as a modern healthcare environment.”

Shotley Bridge Hospital

Steel site hospital and hotel plan a 'no brainer'

James Harrison

Local Democracy Reporter

A new hospital, hotel and even a micro brewery could be built on the site of the former Consett steel works if "no brainer" plans are approved by county bosses.

About 3,500 jobs were lost when it shut down in 1980, but there have been a number of developments to regenerate the site.

The latest one, discussed at a meeting of Durham County Council’s County Planning Committee, was for the land south of the Puddlers Corner roundabout.

Weardale councillor John Shuttleworth said: “It is what the people of Consett want and deserve, there’s much economic benefit and improved social benefits from new health care facilities.

“This application is not finely balanced, it is a no brainer."

Artist's impression of steelworks site development

Submitted by Project Genesis, the organisation set up to redevelop the site, a second, more detailed, version would have to be approved before construction could start.

The meeting was told just one letter of objection had been submitted to the county council, raising concerns about traffic and loss of green space used by dog walkers.

Sinkhole repair work to get under way

Work to repair a huge sinkhole in a County Durham village is due to get under way, two weeks after it opened up.

Two properties on Clervaux Terrace in Fishburn have been declared unsafe, forcing the occupants to find alternative accommodation.

Durham County Council has put fencing in place around the sinkhole and installed temporary lights to keep traffic moving.

Mark Readman, the council's highways services manager said: "[We] were made aware of a sinkhole at Clervaux Terrace two weeks ago and the emergency response team attended to make the area safe.

"Following preparation of a scheme of repairs, we are beginning work today and will ensure local residents are kept informed as this progresses."

Fishburn sinkhole

Whorlton Hall danger signs 'under watchdog's noses all along'

Nick Triggle

Health Correspondent

The undercover Panorama filming at Whorlton Hall shook the sector. It came eight years after an expose at a similar facility, Winterbourne View.

That scandal prompted ministers, inspectors and senior people in the learning disability sector to promise it would not happen again.

People would be moved out of these type of units and tougher regulation would ensure these vulnerable patients were treated with dignity and respect.

So the fact that warnings over the care being provided at Whorlton Hall went unheeded seems unforgiveable and prompt even more questions about how these institutions are regulated.

After the BBC programme was aired, the Care Quality Commission claimed it was incredibly difficult to spot the signs of problems in the closed cultures that characterise these sort of institutions.

But it is now clear the evidence the CQC needed to prompt them to take a closer look was under their noses all along.

If the concerns of Barry Stanley-Wilkinson had been acted on, his bosses at the Care Quality Commission would surely have been compelled to keep a closer eye on what was going on at Whorlton Hall long before the BBC did.

BreakingUnpublished Whorlton Hall report 'missed opportunity'

The health watchdog was wrong not to publish an inspection report raising concerns about Whorlton Hall, four years before a Panorama investigation alleged abuse was taking place, a review says.

Former Care Quality Commission inspector Barry Stanley-Wilkinson said not publishing his 2015 report was a "missed opportunity" to prevent abuse.

Undercover filming at the facility near Barnard Castle appeared to show patients with learning difficulties being mistreated.

Ten workers were later arrested.

The CQC commissioned David Noble to carry out an independent review into how it dealt with the concerns raised by Mr Stanley-Wilkinson's draft inspection report and how they were addressed through its internal processes.

Whorlton Hall

Durham parking machines installed without permission

James Harrison

Local Democracy Reporter

Rail bosses installed parking machines at a free Durham car park without getting permission from county chiefs, the Local Democracy Reporting Service has learned.

There are currently no charges for drivers at the site of the former Durham Light Infantry (DLI) museum, between Durham Railway Station and County Hall.

But with spaces for train travellers at the station reduced due to work on its own car park, managers at the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) gave the green light for the meters to be set up before they had finished negotiations with Durham County Council over a possible deal.

The parking machines were installed last year, but remain wrapped in plastic sheeting and are not believed to have been switched on so far.

Parking meters

The DLI museum shut in 2016, but its car park has remained open to the public to use for free at set times of day, with barriers keeping vehicles off the site at other times.

The long stay car park has been partially closed since November when work started to add 135 extra parking spaces.

Susan Robinson, head of corporate property and land at Durham County Council, said: “LNER is expanding its car park at Durham Railway Station, which has required the train operator to temporarily reduce the number of parking spaces available at the site.

“We are working with LNER to identify alternative provision and to promote other parking options to their customers.”

A spokesperson for LNER said temporary parking meters were placed at the former DLI car park as they held discussions with Durham County Council on the short-term use of the car park.

They added: “We continue to work with Durham County Council to advise our customers of alternative car parks in the city while work takes place to create an additional 135 spaces at Durham station.”

Thieves clean up in vacuum cleaner lorry break-in

Police are appealing for information after thousands of pounds worth of vacuum cleaners and parts were stolen from a lorry.

The vehicle was parked at Ron Perry's service on the northbound side of the A19 overnight on Monday into Tuesday when the curtain to the trailer was cut.

More than 460 Shark duoclean hoovers, with a have a model number of NV700UKT and a batch number of 2419, were taken.

The value of the items runs into tens of thousands of pounds, and Cleveland Police has urged anyone who may have been offered any for sale to contact them.

Ron Perry's services

Care firm's leadership criticised by Care Quality Commission

The Care Quality Commission has raised concerns about the treatment of patients at mental health units run by Cygnet.

It follows inspections in the wake of a BBC Panorama investigation about alleged abuse at Wharlton Hall in County Durham.

The CQC says Cygnet must now take immediate action to address the concerns raised.

Cygnet said a number of the services highlighted have since been improved, but "we are not complacent and take on board recommendations where we must improve".

Care home
Getty Images

Passport worker sentenced for indecent images

Jonathan Swingler

Video Journalist

A former employee at Durham Passport Office has been given a 12-month suspended sentence for having indecent images of children and stealing 30 photographs of girls from passport applications.

James Close, 36, from Shildon in County Durham stole the images of girls ranging in age from six to 16 from his employer in 2018.

On 25 January 2019 police searched his home in Shildon. Officers seized three devices - a laptop, memory card and a USB hard drive.

They all contained images of children and extreme pornography.

They then discovered a locked metal draw containing the passport photos.

Close had worked at the passport office for 14 years and was based in the print room.

Durham Crown Court heard the images of the children should never have been taken off the premises.

His job was to dispose of photos there.

A mother whose daughter’s image was among the passport photos discovered at the house read out a statement in court.

She said: “We as a family feel violated by this incident."

The judge told her he hoped she had some comfort that Close had not shared the image. The judge told him he had caused “profound damage to the public trust” in the Passport Office.

Durham police thanked for helping family robbed of Christmas presents

Hadrian's Wall 'covered' Roman fort gifted to the nation

A North East family has donated an unusual gift to the nation - a Roman Fort.

Carrawburgh Fort is between Chesters and Housesteads in Northumberland.

It housed a garrison of 500 troops who protected part of Hadrian's Wall from enemies in the north.

It has been gifted to Historic England by the Du Cane family who have cared for it since 1950.

Most of the site has grassed over but is open to the public and will be managed by English Heritage.

Carrawburgh Fort
Justin Minns

Durham teen neo-Nazi became 'living dead'

The youngest person to be convicted of planning a terrorist attack in the UK identified potential targets in his hometown, began drafting a "guerrilla warfare" manual and tried to obtain a chemical used in terrorist bombings.

The 17-year-old from Durham, who was 16 when he was convicted, has been locked up for more than six years.

The case also focused on the radicalisation process itself, hearing the 16-year-old's preparations for an attack involved a deliberate effort to dehumanise himself and become like the "living dead".

Aged 14, he noted: "I wasn't always a fascist, my red pilling process was slower than most", adding that less than two years earlier he advocated "punk rock ideals and Marxism".

The trial heard much about his ideology: an amalgam of neo-Nazism, Satanism and misanthropy, allied to the belief that a collapse of civilisation should be "accelerated" through acts of violence and criminality.

A drawing by the boy
Counter Terrorism Police NE

The boy actively sought to alter himself in line with the texts he read, including the instruction "shed empathy" on a list of things to do.

Speaking constantly online with other neo-Nazis, he told a forum that his Satanic belief system involved programming oneself to lose any feelings of guilt, becoming the living dead in the process.

"I believe there is primal enjoyment to be had in sadism," he wrote in his journal, stating: "How wonderful it is to be an amoral individual".

He searched for synagogues around the UK, wrote a list of local places in Durham "worth attacking", collected explosives manuals, and tried to secure a dangerous chemical from a fellow extremist in the USA.

When the boy was arrested outside his home in March, detectives found a coded note in his pocket, saying: "Killing is probably easier than your paranoid mind thinks. You're just not used to it. Most were caught because they got sloppy."

Terror attack plot teenager into 'occult neo-Nazism'

The trial of a teenager locked up for more than six years for plotting a terror attack in Durham heard the boy was an adherent of “occult neo-Nazism”.

The defendant’s attack preparations included researching explosives and trying to obtain the obtain the dangerous chemical ammonium nitrate.

Jurors heard that, in the course of his internet searches, he looked for a “map of synagogues in the UK”, “newcastle synagogue”, and that he wrote of planning to conduct an arson spree targeting synagogues in the Durham area using Molotov cocktails.

He also visited websites on firearms and was in communication with a gun auctioneer.

After his arrest in March 2019, police found him in possession of instructions showing to make bombs and ricin – and that he had distributed firearms manuals online by uploading them to a neo-Nazi website.

Nigel Evans QC, mitigating, said the boy’s lack of contrition may be “interpreted as part of his autism, his ADHD”, and that he now needed intervention and rehabilitation.

He said the teen’s parents – who previously “didn’t believe anything was wrong” – were “now fully engaged".

Terror plot teenager can only be released early if parole board agrees

A Durham teenager convicted of plotting a terror attack can be considered for release on licence after two thirds of the custodial sentence, but only if deemed safe for release by the parole board.

Addressing the defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, Judge David Stockdale QC described him as a widely-read "young man of high intellect”, adding this made it a matter of “infinite regret” that he had persisted on “such a twisted and - many would say sick - ideological path".

He said that, while the boy’s youth was a powerful mitigating factor, it was also a "most disturbing” aspect of the case.

He said the evidence in the trial "tells its own macabre story”.

"You suffer from an autistic spectrum disorder", he told the defendant, saying it was common ground between experts.

The judge also said the boy had written him a letter expressing “remorse”.

Earlier in the hearing, prosecutor Michelle Nelson QC said the boy had been convicted of three kinds of terror offence, saying “this is a gamut of offending across the terrorism legislation”.

She said that gun manuals disseminated online by the defendant had the “potential to endanger life” and post-trial medical reports go to personal mitigation, but do not “explain the offending”.

Drivers netted in road safety operation

A woman travelling in the front seat of a car with a six-week-old child on her lap was caught in a police road safety operation.

She was in one of 80 vehicles stopped by a team of volunteer special constables as part of a cross-border day of action carried out by Northumbria and Durham police in Gateshead, Birtley, Washington, Houghton, and Consett.

It also took place in Chester-le-Street, where the new mother was warned about the need to use a car seat, as well as being handed a fixed penalty notice.

Another random stop check led to the arrest of a 62-year-old woman, and 11 drivers being reported for speeding in a residential area.

Special constables in joint operation
Northumbria Police

Sergeant Pinner Rana, of Northumbria Police’s motor patrols department, said: “This has been another very successful operation and once again it has been led by a team of volunteers.

“These men and women have full-time jobs and families at home but they have volunteered hours of their own time to keep the public safe.

“Their hard work and dedication is incredible and I am so proud to be able to work with individuals who are so committed to improving road safety.

Man who had open heart surgery completes charity run

Jill Archbold

BBC Look North

A man who dislikes running has completed a 13 mile charity run challenge to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his open heart surgery.

Darren Cutler, 43, from Consett, ran the course in aid of the British Heart Foundation whose research helped save his life.

He was joined for the final four miles by the consultant who discovered his condition.

Darren Cutler

Ben Stokes and Tanni Grey-Thompson win at sports awards

There was double success for the North East at last night's BBC Sports Personality of the year awards.

Durham and England cricketer Ben Stokes won the overall prize of Sports Personality of the Year having been named man of the match as England won the World Cup for the first time with a dramatic super over victory against New Zealand at Lord's.

The 28-year-old also hit an unbeaten 135 in the one-wicket third Ashes Test triumph against Australia at Headingley.

Ben Stokes wins Sports Personality 2019

And 11-time Paralympic champion Baroness Grey-Thompson was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement award.

The 50-year-old, who lives on Teesside and is chancellor of Northumbria University, won 16 Paralympic medals in total and broke 30 track world records.

Baroness Grey-Thompson wins Lifetime Achievement award

Yellow warning for ice in parts of the North East

If you are out and about on the roads this morning take extra care because it is going to be slippy.

The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for ice across parts of Northumberland and County Durham particularly on the hills where there may also be a covering of snow.

Today's weather warning
Met Office/ OpenMapTiles

North East has seen 'political earthquake'

Richard Moss

Political Editor, BBC Look North

The North East has seen the equivalent of a political earthquake - the region has not seen as many seats change hands in one election in living memory.

Margaret Thatcher never had as many MPs in this region as Boris Johnson will have. And some now represent constituencies we were told would never vote Conservative.

Communities built on the steel industry, like Consett and Redcar, and former mining areas like Blyth Valley and Bishop Auckland have placed their trust in the Tories.

The Labour party chairman Ian Lavery, a former miner, survived by the skin of his teeth in Wansbeck. Laura Pidcock, a Corbynite who could have been in the running to be the next Labour leader, saw North West Durham's voters reject her.

So what happened? Get Brexit Done certainly resonated. The gains were all in leave-voting seats which seem to have blamed Labour for the parliamentary deadlock.

But Labour candidates will tell you that Jeremy Corbyn was a bigger issue on the doorstep. Not many of their voters wanted him anywhere near Number 10.

But there are dangers. Every economic study suggests it's the North East that will suffer the most harm from leaving the European Union. And just talking about the idea of a Northern Powerhouse will no longer be enough.

Constituents of these new Conservative MPs will expect them and their party to deliver Brexit, but also more investment in the North.

Durham Wildlife Trust: Bellamy's 'unwavering support' will be missed

David Bellamy
Getty Images

Durham Wildlife Trust has paid tribute to naturalist David Bellamy, who died yesterday, aged 86.

Mr Bellamy was its president and more recently held the position of patron.

In a statement, the trust said: "We will miss his unwavering support and commitment and will continue to do everything we can to conserve wildlife and encourage the next generation to appreciate and respect our flora and fauna."

London-born Bellamy, who lived in County Durham, presented programmes such as Don't Ask Me, Bellamy On Botany, Bellamy's Britain, Bellamy's Europe and Bellamy's Backyard Safari.

Trust director Jim Cokill said: "David Bellamy was one of the main reasons why I do the job I do today.

"His TV programmes gave me a love of wildlife and the natural world from a young age and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to meet him in later life.

"He made a lasting contribution to nature conservation in the North East, the country as a whole and across the world."

National award for North East museum

Putting the customer first has landed Beamish Museum a national award,

It won the customer commitment award from the British Chambers of Commerce.

Rhiannon Hiles, Beamish’s deputy director, said: “Our staff and volunteers always go the extra mile to make sure our visitors have an exceptional experience. We are proud to be representing the region on a national stage."

The County Durham open-air museum has about 500 staff and 500 volunteers.

Sarah Howard, chair of the British Chambers of Commerce, congratulated the team for always putting the visitor first.

Beamish Museum town scene
Beamish, The Living Museum of the North

Repairs due for Shildon secondary school

Your questions answered

As part of our election coverage we've been asking people what questions they want answered about their area.

One person contacted us with concerns about Sunnydale Secondary School in Shildon, which became part of Greeenfield Community College in 2015.

She said: "I am concerned for the school as it's in disrepair. Years 10 and 11 are being sent out of town to another secondary school... which the majority of the students don't like.

"Being shipped from one town to the other surely affects the GCSE results. I am sure this school will close unless something is done about it. If we lose this school we have nothing left in this town."

We contacted Durham County Council which said there were 758 pupils based at Newton Aycliffe, 99 Year seven and eight pupils at Shildon and 55 Year nine pupils whose education was split across both sites

However, it was aware there were ongoing building condition issues at the Shildon site.

Richard Crane, head of education and skills at the authority, said: "In recent weeks, problems with the drainage system have escalated and require us to undertake remedial works which cannot be completed with the young people onsite.

"As a result, at the start of the spring term in January, all pupils will be temporarily moved to the Newton Aycliffe site to allow this work to be carried out, along with further investigations and repairs.

"We do not have a time scale for the completion of the work but during this time, free pupil transport will be provided from the Shildon site to Newton Aycliffe.

“The move will not have an impact on the education of the pupils and will draw upon the positive experiences of children in Year 10 and 11 who have already made a switch to a single-site education in Newton Aycliffe."

Bright skies and milder temperatures

Here's are a couple of wow-factor Weather Watcher pictures of sunrise over the North East today.

The first was captured by Geoff Boston in Stockton.

Sunrise over Stockton
Geoff Boston

And here's the rest of the day's forecast for Stockton.

Stockton-on-Tees weather forecast for today

Check the forecast where you are here

This second sunrise was over Consett in County Durham and was caught by Tricia Scorer.

Consett sunrise
Tricia Scorer

Little Lyla is a shining light

A little girl who has brightened up the lives of poorly children across the world, despite battling a brain tumour herself, has been helping to spread festive cheer in her home city.

Lyla O’Donovan joined Katie Corrigan, chairman of Durham County Council, to switch on the Christmas tree lights at County Hall in Durham.

The seven-year-old, from Ushaw Moor, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2016 and has undergone nine operations and suffered multiple complications since then.

Lyla is set to undergo a further operation after Christmas but stays positive.

With the help of her big sister Lilley, Lyla set up Lyla and Lilley’s Stars to send certificates to other brave children all over the world.

The O’Donovan family has also been working with the charity Brain Tumour Research to raise awareness of the disease.

Lyla’s work has not gone unnoticed.

Last month, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, presented her with a Wellchild Award in recognition of her strength, bravery and generosity.

Lyla and her dad Paul at the switch on
Durham County Council

Wigton man who stabbed two strangers jailed for 20 years

A Wigton man who stabbed two strangers and assaulted a woman in July this year has been jailed for 20 years.

Richard Moulton, 49, of Station Road in the town, had armed himself with two knives with which he attacked two men who were chatting in the street.

One was stabbed in the chest and the other in the stomach and both required surgery after suffering serious injuries.

A few minutes later, Moulton passed a woman visiting the town with her husband and lashed out, injuring her hand.

Moulton had admitted attempted murder, wounding with intent and assault and he was sentenced this morning at Durham Crown Court.

Judge James Adkin imposed a 20-year sentence with five years' extended licence, for what he called "life-threatening, entirely random violence".

Smoking linked to child deaths

James Harrison

Local Democracy Reporter

Smoking at home and during pregnancy has been linked to the deaths of four children in County Durham and Darlington.

The cases, which were all reviewed by council chiefs last year, identified tobacco use as a possible factor in the tragedies.

The latest findings also highlighted issues including substance abuse by parents, mental health problems and access to health services.

Gill O’Neill, Durham County Council’s deputy director of public health, told the county council's health and well-being board that the authority was highlighting the threat of tobacco dependency.

Thousands of mums missed flu jabs

Local Democracy Reporting Service

More than 2,000 pregnant women in County Durham could have missed out on their free flu jab last winter.

Mums-to-be and others deemed ‘at risk’, such as over-65s or people with conditions such as asthma or diabetes, can also get the vaccine without having to pay.

But despite this more than 50,000 people eligible for the offer are not thought to have taken it up in 2018, with care chiefs keen to improve numbers ahead of the official start of flu season next month (December).

“The more we normalise the uptake of flu jabs the more people will promote it,” said Dr Stewart Findlay, chief clinical officer at the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield (DDES) and North Durham Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

“The problem I have with the way pharmacies’ work is that, to date, we’ve had competition between pharmacists and GPs.

“It’s not helpful to the population, we have to find a way to work together to target patients to maximise the work of both.”

Dr Findlay was speaking at this morning’s (Wednesday, November 27) meeting of Durham County Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board, which heard an update from the County Durham and Darlington Flu Prevention Board on vaccination efforts.

The flu jab is available from GPs and pharmacists, as well as midwives for pregnant women and costs about £10-13 for those not eligible to receive it for free.

Autumn, from the beginning of October to the end of November, is thought to be the best time to get it, ahead of the flu season, which runs December – March, according to the NHS.

Former officer denies detention centre sex charges

PA Media

A former prison officer at a detention centre has denied misconduct in a public office and a string of sexual offences and assaults against young inmates dating back to the 1970s.

Ian Nicholson, 74, who worked at Medomsley Detention Centre in County Durham, appeared before a judge at Teesside Crown Court to plead not guilty to all eight offences that he faces.

Co-accused Alexander Flavell, 86, who is also charged with misconduct and sexual offences from his time working at the detention centre, was not asked to enter pleas, pending the outcome of a medical examination.

Mr Nicholson, who used a walking aid to leave court, faces a charge of misconduct in a public office, three counts of a serious sexual offence and four counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Judge Howard Crowson listed the four-week trail to take place next November and granted both men unconditional bail.

He told them: "I'm afraid the trial is a very long way off."

The judge imposed a reporting restriction which prevents the media from publishing either defendants' address.

Medomsley Detention Centre closed in 1988 and was intended to house teenagers who had committed relatively minor offences.