CONCERN grew in October for a North-East university student arrested in the UAE.

Durham University PhD student Matthew Hedges was held in solitary confinement for five months after being accused of spying.

The 31-year-old was taken into custody after travelling to Dubai to interview sources about the country’s foreign policy and security strategy.

Durham MP Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods was working with the Foreign Office to demand “transparency” over the nature of the allegations against Mr Hedges ahead of an expected court appearance.

Dr Blackman-Woods said: “The Foreign Office have done a really good job on making representations, including Jeremy Hunt who has spoken to his UAE counterpart. “Obviously we are all very concerned about Matthew’s welfare. He has had an appearance in court and will be back in court later this month (on October 24).

“Probably the nature of the charges against him will be clearer then. He has a legal team assigned to him and our understanding is the family are happy with that team and what we are hearing is that if he has specific welfare issues he needs to raise them with the UAE authorities.”

Durham University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, said: “We are aware that one of our PhD students, Matt Hedges, has been detained in Abu Dhabi.

“We are seriously concerned about Matt’s welfare and wellbeing and we remain in close contact with his family.

“We have raised these concerns with the UK Ambassador to the UAE, the Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and local MPs, and we continue to offer our full assistance to efforts to bring Matt home safely and swiftly.”

Meanwhile, bosses came under fire in a public meeting to discuss the future of a hospital ward threatened by closure.

Concerned residents and staff expressed anger about the proposal to shut ward six at Bishop Auckland hospital.

The town’s MP Helen Goodman attended the meeting and said she was “very disappointed” when she heard the news.

Bosses at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT) started the consultation exercise to discuss closure plans. The ward was then given a temporary reprieve when the trust confirmed the closure would be paused until a meeting on November 15.

Also that month, a four-year-old took a break from school to go on a half-a-mile adventure which would see her play in a park before doing the weekly shop.

Etherley Lane Primary School pupil Danika Brandon went missing for 45 minutes at home time after her father Patrick Brandon, went to collect her and her twin sister.

A frantic search took place and the youngster was later found filling her trolley with bread buns, fruit and vegetables at the Morrisons store, in Bishop Auckland.

Once Danika was found she was quickly reunited with her family, and her parents said they were teaching her not to wander off again.

Kelly-Ann Lee, headteacher of Etherley Lane Primary School, said a full investigation had been carried out and she wanted to reassure all parents and carers of the school’s commitment to their children’s safety.

She said: “The safety of our pupils is paramount and we have policies in place to ensure children are met by their parents and carers at the end of each school day.

“We have carried out a full investigation and have acted swiftly to tighten procedures around the supervision of children leaving school.

“We have spoken to Danika’s parents and have reassured all parents and carers of our commitment to their children’s safety

Also, that month, a supermarket manager was commended by a judge for his bravery after tackling a hooded knifeman attempting to rob his store.

The culprit was armed with a blade and a hammer, he threatened a worker at Sainsburys in Corporation Road in Darlington.

She was so shaken that she was unable to return to work.

The knifeman was disarmed by the store’s manager, who rugby tackled him to prevent him getting any closer to the assistant.

Sentencing the man to seven years and ten months at Teesside Crown Court, judge Stephen Ashurst said the manager ought to be considered for an award for his actions.

He said: “He was very brave, indeed, when the outcome was uncertain as far as he was concerned.”

Also, that month, filmmaker Danny Boyle announced plans to commemorate the centenary of Armistice Day with a beachside event.

The Pages of the Sea commission would create large-scale portraits of casualties from the war designed by sand artists which would be washed away when the tide came in.

Film director Danny Boyle, who also devised the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, said: “Beaches are truly public spaces, where nobody rules other than the tide.

“They seem the perfect place to gather and say a final goodbye and thank you to those whose lives were taken or forever changed by the First World War.

“I’m inviting people to watch as the faces of the fallen are etched in the sand, and for communities to come together to remember the sacrifices that were made.”

Among the beaches lucky enough to take part in the event included Roker beach in Sunderland.

Keith Merrin, chief executive of Sunderland Culture, said: “Sunderland is known throughout the country for its Remembrance Sunday service, so I’m sure the city will support Pages of the Sea which will be a moving and memorable tribute to those who laid down their lives in the War to End All Wars."