Welcome to the Leighton Buzzard Observer News Review of the Year 2013. A month by month look at the local news stories that shaped 2013. Use the timeline menu across above to select a month, or use the left/right arows to navigate. For more details click on the hyperlinks to view the full articles on our website, along with more photos and video content.
A Leighton man, who was rebuilding his life after suffering horrific burns in a plane crash, was getting back in the cockpit to take part in an ultimate feat of endurance. Jamie Hull was one of seven disabled ex-servicemen attempting a heroic record-breaking microlight flight over the South Pole and the world’s most remote mountain peak. It was a trip of danger and adversity that had never been done by able bodied fliers and would test the team to the limit.
Another sign of unity against the development of an out-of-town retail park in Leighton was shown as petitioners stood out at the Market Cross to hand out leaflets. Victoria Harvey, of South Bedfordshire’s Friends of the Earth, commandeered a market stall, as people filled in forms to the planning authority against the proposed plans.
Under pressure Leighton Town chairman Richard Graham said he was happy with the outcome of his meeting with the club’s members. Around 35 Leighton members turned out to quiz the chairman on the club’s worrying financial situation, although not all fans were been left totally reassured by Graham’s answers. Graham said: “If people think that Leighton Town Football Club is in its own little bubble that protects it from the same financial problems that many large companies have then they’re sadly mistaken,” he said.
After serving 40 years in the police service, a volunteer for the Scouts in Leighton Buzzard felt ‘privileged’ to have received an OBE. As the head of the first tri-force of scientific services for the Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire police forces, Richard Johnson was honoured for a lifetime of achievement in pioneering the delivery of forensics to fight crime and protect the public.
A war of words erupted after Leighton’s council leader accused I Love LB traders of “not being bothered to open” on the Sundays leading up to Christmas. After Leighton-Linslade Town Council invested in the shopping festival weekend and lights switch-on, a Sunday market, plus free bus travel, angry Councillor David Bowater claimed many shopkeepers didn’t keep up their end of the bargain by opening their doors for an extra day’s trading.
Traders hit back after a councillor challenged shops to ‘up their game’ following the approval of Leighton’s first retail park. Councillor Alan Shadbolt, who was chairman of the Central Beds Council committee that made the retail park decisions, said shopkeepers felt threatened by the new development and should improve their own offer to residents. But Helen Nottingham, owner of Buzzard Sports of North Street, said: “I think it was a shame that he came across as contentious as he did. Small-shop owners work very hard and if it all goes pear-shaped for us then it’s not just a case of the business closes, we are left in serious debt.”.
Two rival retail park developers had been battling to get their planning applications for Leighton Buzzard approved by Central Beds Council. Barwood Developers was left severely disappointed as their proposal was unanimously voted against, but the other firm was celebrating. The successful Claymore Group’s plans included the development of a new DIY store, bulky goods retail warehousing and restaurant/café/public house on land at Grovebury Road, Leighton-Linslade.
A man involved in a five-hour armed siege with police at his Bridge Street, Leighton flat was charged with one count of possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and one count of communicating false information about a bomb hoax. The ex-soldier had been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He was later jailed for two years in what the judge described as a “tragic” case.
A nine-year-old boy has made history by becoming the youngest entrepreneur to join Bedfordshire Chamber in its 136-year existence. Henry Patterson was welcomed on board as its youngest member since 1877 in recognition of his success running his own online sweet retailing business selling sweets aimed at children.
The mother of a Down’s syndrome child said she wanted to change people’s perceptions after defying doctors’ advice to terminate her unborn baby. Since giving birth to baby Ella, Anne-Marie Burgess, of Shepherds Mead, Leighton, had endeavoured to spread the word about The Bedfordshire Down’s Syndrome support group, which she said changed her life.
A crowd of protesters united against the controversial plans for a wind farm near Stoke Hammond were overjoyed to see the proposal quashed by councillors. Aylesbury Vale District Council rejected plans submitted by Force 9 Energy for four 125m high wind turbines at Dorcas Lane, which were described as being three times the height of Milton Keynes’ Xscape. Residents from Stoke Hammond, Stewkley, Soulbury, Great Brickhill, Hollingdon, Newton Longville and Drayton Parslow, which are the villages that would have been most affected, all turned out in their droves to show their support against the application.
Leighton community priest Paul Niemiec spoke of his shock after a freak fire destroyed a lifetime’s memories at his home. The last rays of the winter sun set fire to papers and books in his study after bouncing off a glass paperweight decorating the windowsill. It was only the action of his wife, Helen, who always shuts internal doors when she leaves the house, in Warneford Way, Billington Park, that prevented the inferno from destroying the property.
Violence, intimidation and threatening behaviour by youths in Leighton’s shopping centre pushed shopkeepers to call for help. Talks to sort out Waterborne Walk’s anti-social behaviour crisis were planned after staff endured assaults, abuse and harassment from gangs who refuse to leave the area. Poundstretcher manager Neil Matterson said a member of staff was sprayed with an aerosol and another was assaulted.
A nine-year-old schoolgirl from Cheddington has been selected as one of five winners in a nationwide hunt to find a junior hotel inspector. Eloise Cole, who has been described as having a love for travelling and a keen eye for detail, is celebrating her new role as a guest reviewer of the Best Western hotel chain across the UK.
Artwork covering some of pop’s most iconic album covers and posters that were created by Leighton artist David Storey were up for sale alongside the likes of Sir Peter Blake and Storm Thorgerson at a major London gallery. The limited edition music posters included images of Blondie, Phil Collins, The Specials and Iggy Pop. “Typically whenever I was asked to design a record cover in the past I would be asked to design a ‘fly’ poster too, to promote the record,” said David, of Ashwell Street. “These were often a more interesting design challenge than the record cover itself.”.
Simon’s Cat creator, Leighton Buzzard illustrator Simon Tofield, had gone to the dogs. The artist and cat lover was among a select group of internationally-renowned artists who created a pack of whopping great Gromits to raise funds for charity. Simon’s 5ft creation (without the clever mutt’s sidekick Wallace) was set to become a major tourist attraction in Bristol and raise funds for the city’s Royal Hospital for Children.
South Leighton was to finally get the purpose-built community centre its residents demanded after a last-minute change of plan by Leighton-Linslade Town Council. With just a few weeks to go before building starts at Astral Park the council has decided to up the ante and plough £1.5m into a major, much-needed facility that will provide the town with a large public meeting room that can be sub-divided into three, or four changing rooms for sports, office accommodation, kitchen and stores. The new scheme was three times the size of the original concept which had been kept deliberately small because of financial constraints.
A voluntary group that puts Leighton’s independent businesses first transformed its image and welcomed a fresh start. I Love LB had in the past been two separate groups, one voluntary group and the other run as a business, but now the voluntary section morphed into LB First to avoid confusion. LB First held its inaugural meeting where the deputy town clerk Mark Saccoccio told members he saw the High Street as the heartbeat of the town and that part of his role was to support independent retailers.
The decision to charge Leighton-Linslade Town Council to use land for its annual canal festival was defended by Central Beds Council. The response came after the town's events sub-committee admitted there will be 20% less stalls than there were two years ago - causing a huge shake-up of the event.
For the first time in the event’s 10-year history, Central Beds has demanded the town council pay a fee for using their land at Tiddenfoot Waterside Park for the festival. A spokesman said: “We took the decision to start charging this year as we are no longer in a position to be able to fully subsidise events such as this one.
A feisty 78-year-old great-granny vowed to carry on walking alone through Leighton despite being the victim of a horrific attack. Tiny Frances Gordon was slammed into a nettlebed, throttled and punched in the face and chest as a robber tried to snatch her bag.
It was the second vicious assault on women in Riverside Walk within three days and police weren't ruling out that they could be linked. But the brute left behind a vital piece of evidence after Mrs Gordon’s attack - a gold-coloured “Rolex” watch - and detectives hope it could help snare the man. The attacker turned out to be an escaped prisoner who was later caught and sentenced to a further two years and six months in prison.
A popular Leighton school was told it must improve in the next two years after it failed to reach a “good” standard by Ofsted inspectors. The inspection at Vandyke Upper School ruled that the achievement of pupils, quality of teaching and its leadership and management all “require improvement”. Headteacher Tim Carroll said: “With the introduction of the new Ofsted inspection framework the bar has been raised. A small number of students were judged not to have made good progress and this was the determining factor in the inspection team’s overall judgement. We have to accept the report in its entirety and are already addressing issues identified.”
The volunteers operating Leighton Buzzard’s narrow-gauge railway were amazed to find Hollywood superstar, John Travolta, on one of their trains when the actor came for a ride with his small son Ben. The first anyone knew was in late morning, when a group of men with American accents arrived at the railway to check it out. John Travolta and his entourage were staying at a nearby hotel on work assignments, and needed somewhere interesting to take Ben. The hotel duly produced a Leighton Buzzard Railway leaflet, which led to the advance visit.
Linslade Canal Festival was once again a tremendous success as visitors travelled from near and far to sample the atmosphere of the popular event. Councillor Mark Freeman, who is chairman of Leighton-Linslade Town Council’s events sub committee, said: ““When an event is as good as the canal festival has become, it is difficult to maintain and expand the quality – the team this year managed to do that yet again.”
Leighton-Linslade Carnival was also a great success as thousands flocked to the enjoy the town’s big day in glorious weather. Temperatures soared to record the hottest day of 2013 so far, in contrast to last year when organisers were so worried about everyone getting stuck in waterlogged ground. The procession, on the theme of Children’s Books, was the best for many years.
Businesses in Leighton lost thousands of pounds of custom after being twice forced to close for maintenance to the national grid - only for the work not to be done. UK Power Networks had twice sent flyers around to the firms based at Leighton Buzzard Garden Centre, in Hockliffe Road, telling them that they would be without power between 9am and 3pm while “essential maintenance” was carried out. On both occasions the work was cancelled at the 11th hour because a sewage pumping station, also due to be affected, had been unable to organise an alternative power supply to run the sewage services.
Stoke Hammond welcomed a cavalcade of bikers paying tribute to the nation’s Thankful Villages with a commemoration on the village green. Medwyn Parry and Dougie Bancroft visited each of the 51 villages whose menfolk went off to The Great War and returned with their numbers intact. The pair came up with the idea to travel 2,500 miles and present 51 plaques to each of the villages in nine days, with the aim of raising £51,000 for the Royal British Legion.
A restaurant manager said he was willing to go to prison to stand up against the council giving parking tickets to his customers. Abdul Haque of Methi Indian Restaurant, on Bridge Street, Leighton, was outraged at Central Beds Council’s ANPR camera van punishing people parking on double yellow lines while picking up their takeaway. Abdul, who is known as Ace to friends and customers, said: “I am going to do court and make a big fuss about this because I have had enough. I have had to give away so many free meals to apologise to customers. “I understand it is double yellow lines but it is 8pm in the evening and has even happened on a Sunday!
Former LBO reporters recalled one of the longest running news stories of the last century on its 50th anniversary. The Great Train Robbery took place in August 1963 just down the line from Leighton Station, heading towards Cheddington. A gang of men stopped the overnight mail train from Glasgow to London and robbed it of £2.6m in cash – the equivalent of £46m in today’s money. Ex-staff recalled the way they covered the drama as it unfolded and the LBO printed the front page of the time.
A blind woman slammed the behaviour of a dog walker who walked off when she fell in the canal to escape his snarling pet. Andrea Cannon, 53, was left floundering in more than 4ft of filthy water in the Grand Union Canal, Linslade, as the man ignored her pleas for help. Andrea, whose guide dog, Ember, was left on the bank, eventually struggled out of the canal and made her way to her Linslade home.
Councillors vowed to stand up against plans to base Beds Police officers in supermarkets and saw their petition backed by the public. Leighton-Linslade Town Councillors fighting against the closure of police stations across the county say they had 800 signatures on one Saturday morning at the Market Square after hiring a stall to gauge public opinion. Eventually the petition would top 5,500 signatures.
Leighton’s booming pigeon population was to be displaced with the offer of a luxury des res and eggcellent amenities. Leighton-Linslade Town Council was offering relocation expenses in the form of tempting birdseed and the chance of nesting nirvana for the broody females in a novel attempt to clear the town centre streets of birds and - more importantly - the foul mess they deposit. They had been forced into action after complaints from the public, market stall holders and building owners. A purpose-built pigeon loft was to be constructed as a home from home for all the birds who would be fed and watered on a daily basis, have their new quarters cleaned out...and be given fake eggs for them to try and hatch while their own are removed to prevent further breeding.
Devastated Leighton mum Kelly Caird made a tearful appeal for thieves to return a gold locket containing the ashes of her dead toddler . Burglars broke into the house in Linwood Grove. They took a teardrop necklace, along with two other pieces of jewellery, from a shrine to the memory of two-year-old Daniel, who died almost exactly four years ago.
Unwelcome news rocked the Linslade community as it was revealed the battle over building 900 houses could recommence, but residents said they were up for a fight. In 2010, Paul Newman Homes submitted a planning application for development of land between the western edge of Leighton-Linslade and the A4146. But following its rejection at appeal, the developers decided to present “a carefully-designed and sustainable scheme” to change the minds of residents and councillors.
Campaigners who dared to dream they had heard the last of controversial plans for a wind farm on their doorsteps were dealt an 11th hour blow. Force 9 Energy and EDF were accused of showing “contempt” for residents after lodging an appeal against Aylesbury Vale District Council’s decision to reject its application for four 125m turbines near Stoke Hammond. The plans were turned down in March and the company appealed on the last day.
Leighton Buzzard’s MP was on a mission to fight against supermarket chains. “ripping off” the town with higher fuel prices than neighbouring areas. Fueled with anger, South West Beds MP Andrew Selous planned to meet with the Petrol Retailers’ Association to ensure Leighton was treated fairly. Mr Selous said: “People are angry because everything is expensive at the moment like gas and electricity and on top of that, why because they live in Leighton Buzzard, should they pay more for fuel?
A council official who ordered the removal of clown posters for the sake of a woman’s phobia was bombarded with “vile” hate mail. The Leighton-Linslade Town Council worker was targeted in the aftermath of the decision to take down a metre-long banner from outside The Falcon on Stanbridge Road. A Leighton woman suffering from coulrophobia, an extreme or irrational fear of clowns, claimed she could not “walk or drive past” the John Lawson’s Circus banner during its four-day stay at Parsons Close Recreation Ground.
A builder tricked into handing over £10,000 to a fraudster posing as a city banker said he would never forgive the “evil” man who was now behind bars. Stephen Morley, of Leighton Buzzard, fell victim to Henryk Rusin’s claims that he could invest the money for high returns over two years. But after borrowing thousands of pounds from his parents’ savings, Mr Morley was devastated to find out he had been fleeced.
Pub-goers were fighting against a “petty-minded” council who threatened legal action to ensure the removal of a superhero. ‘The Buzzard’, as it is affectionately known in the town, had kept a kindly and watchful eye from his perch above The Office in Leighton for the past ten months. But, according to Central Beds Council, the superhero “negatively affected the character of the building” and the authority said it had received complaints from the public.
Children from Clipstone Brook Lower School were delighted to be visited by Pudsey and Team Rickshaw as BBC’s The One Show cycled through Leighton Buzzard on Friday for Children in Need. TV presenter Alex Jones received a warm welcome from the town as many people turned out to show their support as the Rickshaw passed through on its way to Elstree.
Fishermen along the Grand Union Canal in Linslade were falling hook, line and sinker for the patter of a bogus water bailiff who was patrolling the banks angling for fees. In the latest incident day visitors to the Stoke Hammond stretch, licensed to Luton Angling Club, were approached by a man in his 40s with grey-brown hair who demanded £6 a time. The club renewed its warning to members and occasional visitors not to hand over any cash unless the bailiff shows ID and could give them a printed ticket.
An Only Fools and Horses fan who died just before he turned 70 was given the ‘cushty’ send-off he would have loved on his birthday. Peter Shaves, of Golden Riddy, Linslade, died following a long illness , but his family were determined to ensure his funeral was not a sombre occasion. Peter’s wife Linda told the LBO her late husband would have wanted everyone to smile. Linda said: “We decided to have the funeral on Peter’s 70th birthday so we could have a birthday party for him at the wake before we said our goodbyes." She got in touch with Only Fools and Hearses funeral hire, who provided a Trotters’ Independent Traders three-wheeler car for the day.
Leighton's Christmas festival was the biggest and best yet. The town’s three-day event, organised by LB First and supported by Leighton-Linslade Town Council, saw thousands turn out to join the fun. The Christmas lights were switched on by Philomena Lee, the inspiration behind Steve Coogan’s new film, Philomena, starring Judi Dench.
A man who became ‘violently ill’ after chomping on a McDonald’s burger said he felt let down by the food giant and vowed to never tuck in again. Jason Gibbs, 38, stopped off at the Billington Road, Leighton Buzzard branch on his way home from Grovebury Cars for a McChicken Sandwich - but what he got instead was a dodgy tummy and a two-week course of antibiotics. Jason says his lips started to dry up and he had a chemical taste in his mouth as well as sickness and cramps. McDonalds apologised and said they were sending a batch of buns off to their food lab for testing.
Leighton took the fight for a fully functioning police station. right to the top with an appeal to Home Secretary Theresa May. Almost all the members of Leighton-Linslade Town Council threw their weight behind a hard hitting letter asking for urgent action to review the government’s funding of its police force. Under-fire Beds Police crime commissioner, Olly Martins, was having to make swingeing cuts of more than £19m to services before 2015.
South Leighton town centre was finally dazzling with light after a bright spark finally fixed a three-year problem with the area’s power supply. Festoons on the shops around Market Square, Lake Street, Hockliffe Street and Peacock Mews came on - and stayed on - after the LBO intervened to get the issue sorted. Since 2011 the area had suffered repeated outages to the street decorations put up by Leighton-Linslade Town Council.
A blaze that took hold of a commercial site in Wing left firefighters trapped by a fallen overhead power line that had blocked the entrance. More than 40 firefighters battled against the flames and evacuated 15 people from businesses in the area as the risk of explosion remained for the next 48 hours.