IN JANUARY, a house was damaged after being firebombed as part of an ongoing feud.

Firefighters and police were called to the empty house on Yarm Road in the early evening after a passerby heard a loud explosion and saw the building on fire.

A 4x4 believed to be used in the attack was later found burnt out on Bishopton Lane, Great Burdon, on the outskirts of Darlington.

The incident was believed to be part of a long-running feud involving members of the travelling community.

Inspector Chris Knox, from the Darlington Neighbourhood Police Team, said: "We received a call just after 7pm from a member of the public who reported hearing a loud bang and saw a flash of fire at the house.

"It is believed that three men were involved in the attack and made their escape in a dark coloured 4x4.

"It is suspected that some kind of accelerant was used to start the fire.”


The Northern Echo:

Later in the month, a 30-year transport plan for the North-East was unveiled, claiming to be the biggest transport investment for a generation.

Transport for the North launched its Strategic Transport Plan hoping to make it easier for people to travel, get access to jobs and improve the movement of goods.

The projects identified as “priorities” for the Tees Valley included improvements to the A66, ensuring the facilities at Darlington Bank Top Station are up to standards for HS2, providing a new River Tees road crossing, and the Darlington bypass.

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen said the inclusion of several North-East projects showed the region has a “strong voice”, before adding that launching the plan at Darlington’s Bank Top Station and the town’s Business Central complex also showcased the area’s significance.

Former Darlington Borough Council leader Bill Dixon said the launch of the plan was the perfect way to celebrate his 65th birthday, while one North-East businessman said the project was more important to the region than “winning the Olympics”.


The Northern Echo:

Flog It! fans flocked to Darlington in January, as camera crews from the popular BBC One antiques show set up in the Thomas Watson’s auction house.

Flog It! presenter, Paul Martin, was joined by a team of antiques experts, Catherine Southon, David Fletcher and James Lewis for the auction.

Among the lots due to appear as part of the programme were a collection of Rupert the Bear books and a figurine bought for 15p in 1971 by Audrey and Stewart Schofield.

The couple, from Langley Park, near Durham, purchased the set for their four-year-old daughter, but a recent clear out uncovered the collection that was of little interest to their great-grandchild.

Mrs Schofield said: “It is the first time we have ever sold anything at auction and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“Flog It! is one of our favourite television programmes so it was really exciting to have been involved with the show and to meet the TV experts.”

The items were valued at £10 to £20 but were knocked down for £35 with the Schofield’s donating the cash to the Great North Air Ambulance Service.


The Northern Echo:

Meanwhile, a young judo champion followed in his father’s footsteps by seeing in the year with his second British title.

Charlie Ayre, from Middlesbrough, won his second British title in December, and was set to attend an England Development Programme in January.

The 12-year-old was crowned under 34kg British Judo Champion, adding to his under 27kg title in 2015 and a silver medal at under 30kg in 2016.

Proud father Paul, who manages Middlesbrough Council’s Everyone Active leisure contract, was himself crowned junior British Judo Champion in 1987 at the age of 14.

He said: “Charlie has continued to make great progress with his judo this year and trained really hard to enable him to achieve some fantastic results along the way.

“He is now back in training after a break for Christmas and we hope he can build on his success from 2017.”


The Northern Echo:

Also that month, a university student who was just “getting by” working a minimum wage bar job became a millionaire overnight thanks to a spontaneous shop trip to buy a packet of sweets.

Alex Best moved back to live at his mother and step-father’s house in Shildon, in September having completed a degree in live event production.

Less than four months later, the 21-year-old was making ends meet by working at Harvey’s Late Bar, in Darlington, and applying for jobs in the events industry when he picked up a single EuroMillions Lucky Dip ticket as he waited in line to buy a bag of Skittles from his nearby Nisa Local store in Jubilee Fields.

Despite having an unsuccessful run of numbers, he struck lucky and scooped £1m in the EuroMillions UK Millionaire Maker draw.

Speaking from Redworth Hall Hotel, near Newton Aycliffe, the newly-made millionaire said: “I just popped into the shop for a bag of sweets and I was stood in the queue and saw the advert for the EuroMillions, so I thought I’d try my luck on the EuroMillions.

"It turned out to be the best money I’ve ever spent.”


The Northern Echo:

And a Second World War Hero who fought gallantly during the Dunkirk’s evacuation and D-Day landings was honoured with a rare award.

Mel Wallace, 97, was presented with the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest military order in France.

He received it with his family at Riverside View Care Home in Darlington.

Mr Wallace, who served in the Northumbrian Division Signals Regiment, accepted the award “on behalf of all the men who didn’t come home”.