QUICK-THINKING in a crisis saw a pair of Marks & Spencer knickers used to put out a kitchen fire this week ten years ago.

Thick black smoke filled the room in a Hartlepool home as a frying pan fire threatened to burn out of control.

In a panic, 18-year-old John Marsey threw water over the blaze, unwittingly making the flames and choking fumes worse.

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It was then his quick-thinking cousin, Darren Lines, saved the day by grabbing a pair of his aunt's knickers from a pile of washing – using them as an improvised fire blanket.

Mother-of-four Jenny Marsey – owner of the now blackened size 18-20 Marks & Spencer smalls – said: "I think if they had been my daughter Sarah's skimpy knickers, they would not have done any good."

Also that week, three children were caught up in a terrifying ordeal when they were threatened by a robber with a hunting knife.

The thug took the children into a secluded woodland area in Middlesbrough where he robbed them of their Christmas presents. The goods stolen involved two mobile telephones and a MP4 player.

A commando-type knife was held to one of the boys’ throats whilst he, his 13-year-old brother, and friend were robbed of their presents.

Tracy Freeman, the mother of two of the boys, said: "He is a coward. I feel sick at what might have happened."

A North-East cancer survivor gave birth to a baby after being told she might never have children.

On New Year’s morning Kiera Wilkinson was born just five minutes after midnight.

The child’s mother Ms Wilkinson, from Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland, said: "She is my miracle baby. I was diagnosed with cancer in November 2005. When I was told I had Hodgkin's lymphoma, I asked doctors what the chances were of having my eggs frozen.

"But there was no time to do so, as the doctors wanted to get on with the treatment.

"The doctors said it was unlikely I would ever have children. I was devastated when they said my chances were really low."

It emerged that a hoax 999 caller had delayed an ambulance on its way to a North-East father-of-two who lay dying after a confrontation with a gang of youths.

Paramedics took 21 minutes to reach father-of-two Ron Sharples in Marske, Redcar, after they were diverted by the hoax call.

Paul Liversidge, director of ambulance operations for the North-East Ambulance Service, said the hoaxer's actions had tragic consequences for Mr Sharples, who died from severe head injuries in the early hours of New Year's Day.

Mr Sharples, 52, died after a confrontation with the gang while searching for his black and white collie, Charlie, who had run away after being scared by fireworks.

Two teenagers were later jailed, one for murder, one for manslaughter.