FIVE years ago this week, thousands of North-East householders were in for a surprise Christmas treat after a banking error at Northern Rock resulted in a payout of about £270m.

A mistake in the wording of Northern Rock loan statements meant that about 152,000 customers received nearly £2,000 each as a refund.

The mistake came to light when staff at UK Asset Resolution, which was looking after rescued bank for the Government, started to move customers' accounts from the old Rock system to a new one.

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Also that week came the rare date of 12.12.12, the last time this century where dates would be aligned in this way – and people in the North-East celebrated in a number of ways.

Couples around the world decided to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity by tying the knot. Anne Poole and Ian Cuthbertson from Billingham, near Stockton, went even further, getting married at 12pm.

Ms Poole said: "No other date is memorable to us really, I just thought there's never going to be another date like this this century."

Meanwhile, a wild swimmer broke the ice at noon that day in celebration. Pauline Squire trained in Ellerton Lake, near Brompton-on-Swale, North Yorkshire, all-year-round with her group, Wild About Swimming.

She said: "When we got to the lake, the air temperature was -2 degrees and the water temperature was -0.5 degrees.

"The lake was fully frozen over. As long as you are safe you can swim all year round.”

And baby Jake Atkinson timed his arrival perfectly, when he arrived at the University Hospital of North Durham at exactly 12 minutes past 12 on 12.12.12.

His parents, Neil Atkinson and Amanda Dickinson, were amazed when they realised the time of his arrival.

Elsewhere, there was huge excitement in Yorkshire after it won a bid to host the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2014.

Capturing the Grand Depart was a major coup for the Welcome to Yorkshire tourist agency, which overcame a rival British-wide bid starting in Edinburgh.

Tour de France director, Christian Prudhomme, hailed Yorkshire’s “outstanding beauty" and applauded the "phenomenal desire" of the Yorkshire bid team.

The race attracted millions of spectators.

In Darlington, The Northern Echo revealed that engineering firm Cleveland Bridge had won a multi-million pound contract to help build the new Forth Road Bridge in Scotland.

The firm beat international rivals to supply steel girders for the 1.7-mile bridge between Edinburgh and Fife.

"These types of big contracts don't come around very often so this is a very welcome boost for us going into 2013, " said a spokesman for the firm.

The deal was a huge coup for the company – founded in 1877 – and continued its proud tradition of building some of the world's most iconic structures, including the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in Australia.