FIVE years ago this week, the top ten purrfect picture entries for The Northern Echo’s Christmas Pawtraits competition had been selected by celebrity judges, Ashleigh and Pudsey.

The stars of stage and screen took time out their busy schedule thrilling audiences with pantomime performances of Cinderella at Darlington’s Civic Theatre to visit the newspaper’s offices.

More than 100 entries from across the North-East and North Yorkshire were judged by the duo with ten-year-old Pudsey, at the time, sniffing out his festive favourites.

The Britain’s Got Talent winners and stars of Pudsey: The Movie selected dogs, cats, a guinea pig and a horse as their top picks.

The Northern Echo:

And Pudsey’s owner, Ashleigh, said at the time: “I feel bad for the ones I’m not going to pick because they’re all so good and cute.”

An overall winner of the competition was be decided by Northern Echo readers in an online vote with the results being announced on New Year’s Eve.

The winner was to receive a professional pet portrait session and a framed print of their four-legged friend.

Also that week, tennis player Andy Murray capped a memorable year by adding another doubles title.

Murray was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year and the Great Britain Davis Cup team had won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year team prize.

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Jessica Ennis-Hill was in third place and Kevin Sinfield came second.

Murray said at the time that it was “extremely humbling” to win the title, adding: “I read a newspaper article the other day which said Andy Murray is duller than a wet weekend in Worthing. Which I thought was a bit harsh - to Worthing.”

The Northern Echo:

Meanwhile, patients, staff and visitors to North-East hospitals were paying out more than £3.8 million a year to park, startling new figures have revealed.

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust - which runs James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and the Friarage in Northallerton - raised £1.76 million from parking charges in 2014/15.

The Northern Echo:

Elsewhere in the region, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust earned £1.49m during the same period from parking fees, while County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Darlington Memorial, University Hospital Of North Durham and Bishop Auckland hospitals, received more than £582,000.

Critics said the fees amount to a tax on the sick, but hospital bosses have defended the charges saying they reflect the high volume of people using the facilities.

The figures were revealed following a freedom of information request.

The Northern Echo:

Nationally some trusts were making more than £3m a year from parking charges.

Hospitals across England are raising increasing amounts of money from staff, patients and visitors and disabled people.

They were also handing over millions to private firms to run the car parks.