LOOKING back to the week that was January 29 to February 4, 20 years ago...

THE drama of a passionate, Italian opera was recreated at Lumley Castle in January 2004, when a stunt man plummeted more than 20ft from a hotel.

The famous "leap of death", in Puccini's Tosca, where the main character commits suicide by jumping from a castle, was recreated at the historic hotel, near Chester-le-Street.

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Stunt artist Rod Woodruff threw himself from the top of the large front doorway before a crowd of onlookers and landed safely on an airbag.

The stunt man had already appeared in films such as Indiana Jones III, The Krays and Bhaji on the Beach and is said to be the first man to handstand on a moving train, be blown over an exploding car and pole vault across the path of an oncoming train.

He was set to perform his death-defying leap again when Ellen Kent and Opera International performed the opera at the Sunderland Empire Theatre in February 2004.

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Kelly Ashford, spokeswoman for Opera International, said: "At the end of the opera, Tosca commits suicide because her lover has been executed.

"So she sings this aria and runs up to a castle that we've had built on the stage and leaps to her death.

"As she comes up to the castle, she swaps with the stunt artist and he does the jump dressed as her. The jump is about five metres in the production."

An angry mother claimed a £250,000 plan to revamp a Darlington park was long overdue, in January 2004.

Claire Easby, who had an eight-year-old daughter, Nadine, said North Lodge Park is littered with broken bottles, forcing parents to take their children elsewhere.

She said: "I keep hearing about plans to do up North Lodge Park, but they haven't touched it yet. It's an absolute disgrace.

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"It should be great having a park on the doorstep but it is dangerous for kids because of the glass. There are a lot of kids around here that would love to go in but their parents won't let them."

Mrs Easby said she was becoming afraid to take her two dogs into the park because of gangs of youths.

Police warned pet owners to be careful after a dog was slashed in the face in the park in November 2003.