Whatever happened to a little girl who made the front pages nearly 50 years ago when she was flown to Teesside Airport in a medical emergency after being taken critically ill on holiday? PETER BARRON finds out

THE internet works in mysterious ways and, sometimes, it takes a while to come up with answers you're looking for....

Back in September 2008, after giving a talk about newspapers to the Sedgefield Expert Patient Support Group, at Newton Aycliffe Evangelical Church Hall, I was approached by a man, called John Lindley.

John was excited to tell me that his picture had appeared on the front pages of The Northern Echo and the Evening Gazette, on October 2, 1975, and he’d kept the cuttings ever since.

John had served as a firefighter at Teesside Airport, and he’d been photographed carrying a nine-year-old Middlesbrough girl, called Tracey Robinson, off a flight from Malta after she’d been taken desperately ill while on holiday.

John recalled that the emergency flight had cost £1,000, and that it was paid for by Tracey’s uncle, popular North-East comedian, Wally Harper, who’d raised the money through a series of cabaret shows.

“I’ve always wondered what happened to that little girl,” said John.

I took it as a challenge to try to find out, so our conversation made it into my ‘From The Editor’s Chair' column in The Northern Echo that week. It was also published online, in the hope that it might lead to news of Tracey.

Well, 15 years on, the news has finally filtered through – from Tracey herself.

Last summer, while carrying out some internet research on Wally Harper, a family member came across my column from 2008, and immediately sent a message to Tracey.

In turn, she sent me an email, brimming with excitement: “Hello, Peter, I am the nine-year-old girl who John Lindley carried off the plane at Teesside Airport in 1975, and I’m fine!” it began.

She went on to explain that she was planning to fly back home to Middlesbrough, for a family holiday in December, and said how much she’d like to meet up with John Lindley.

Given that John was 73 when I met him at Newton Aycliffe in 2008, he’d be in his late eighties now, and my subsequent enquiries have failed to establish whether he’s still alive.

The hope was that he might be able to join me for a meeting with Tracey at the weekend when she flew into Teesside International Airport, in very different circumstances to those 48 years ago.

The Northern Echo:

Nevertheless, in the hope that John's still around, this is what happened to that sick little girl he carried off the plane from Malta on that dramatic day in 1975…

Tracey Robinson was born in Middlesbrough’s Carter Bequest Hospital and brought up by her single mum, Lillian, who died when her daughter was 12.

Tracey’s Nana became her legal guardian, but she was brought up by her mum’s sister, Edna, and her husband – Wally Harper (pictured below).

The Northern Echo:

Three years before Lillian’s death, Wally, who was well known on the North-East club circuit, was invited to Malta to do some shows and took his family – Edna and son Michael – with him for a three-week holiday, with Tracey also invited.

After a week, Tracey began getting terrible headaches. At first, they were put down to sunstroke, but she went into a coma, and was rushed to hospital. A brain tumour and blood clot were suspected, but it turned out to be two abscesses on the brain.

“My Mum was summoned to fly over to Malta because, apparently, there was a good chance I could have died – it was that bad,” she recalls.

There was no-one in Malta who could carry out the operation she needed, so, after three weeks in hospital over there, she was flown back to Teesside, under sedation, and accompanied by a doctor.

Once John had carried her off the plane, and tenderly placed her in an ambulance, she was taken to Middlesbrough General Hospital for the operation to remove the abscesses.

Tracey (pictured below as a schoolgirl) was left paralysed down her left side, and spent a year learning to walk again with the help of physiotherapy.

The Northern Echo:

Happily, she recovered well, with only minor lasting effects, and, in 1993, she went back-packing round the world. 

When she reached Malaysia, she met a Dutchman, called Michael Bierenbroodspot. They fell in love, and she moved to the Netherlands 28 years ago to be with engineer Michael.

In the UK, she’d qualified as an activities co-ordinator for elderly people with dementia – working at Poole Hospital, in Middlesbrough – and she continued that work when she settled in her adopted country.

The couple now have two sons, Joshua, 28, and Nathaniel, 26, and live in Alkmaar.

Wally and Edna have both passed away – Edna two years ago and Wally in 1987 – but Tracey remains very close to her family, and returns to Teesside every year.

The latest visit is special because it’s her cousin, Christine Robinson’s, 60th birthday party. (Christine is pictured below, on the right, with Tracey next to her)

The Northern Echo:

“I don’t really remember what happened in 1975, but it’s always very emotional when I come back here because it brings back so many happy memories from my childhood,” she says.

“I remember my mum had an Austin 1100 and, on her days off from the casino, where she worked as a croupier, we’d drive up the Trunk Road to Redcar.

"I remember the boating lake, the swing-boats, mat slide, helter-skelter, and the donkeys on the beach.

“I love Middlesbrough because of the friendliness of the people. I've been away a long time in the Netherlands but, as soon as I'm there, it always feels like home.

" It would be the icing on the cake for me if John Lindley was still alive, and we could meet again.”

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Sorry it took so long, John, but that’s the story of what happened to 'that little girl' you carried from the plane all those years ago.

It's nice to finally be able to confirm that it had a happy ending.

  • Having finally found out what happened to Tracey Robinson, it would be nice to know about John Lindley. If anyone can help, please email me at peter@barronmedia.co.uk