Review of the year: Knife crime casts long shadow in 2018, Nazanin still in jail and Phoenix Cinema saved
PUBLISHED: 10:10 30 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:30 31 December 2018
The last 12 months have seen heartening tales of community action interspersed with trauma, tragedy and political intrigue. Harry Taylor and Sam Volpe take a look back at the biggest stories we've brought you in 2018 - and a couple of the weirdest, too.
Knife crime: Blood on our streets
The last 12 months have seen a surge in youth violence in Camden.
Two people were killed in a night of violence in Kentish Town. Sadiq Aadam and Abdikarim Hassan died on February 20, in an event that shocked the borough.
It sparked a march through Camden, from Queen’s Crescent to Mornington Crescent. Groups such as Camden Against Violence were also set up to raise awareness.
Six defendants have been charged with their deaths, and have pleaded not guilty.
Two stabbings took place in West Hampstead in November, including one where a 17-year-old boy was left critically injured. A 16-year-old has been charged over it.
Another 16-year-old had “life-changing” injuries after he was stabbed a week earlier.
Camden’s Youth Safety Taskforce, chaired by Cllr Abdul Hai and Holborn and St Pancras MP Sir Keir Starmer, published a report on trying to solve the problems.
Nazanin: There are some stories we wish we weren’t bringing you.
At the beginning of 2018, there was a huge amount of hope that jailed West Hampstead mum Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be back at home with Gabriella and Richard this year.
However, as the year draws to a close, it looks almost certain this will not happen.
Yet a few months ago the picture seemed so different. Nazanin was allowed out on furlough for the first time during her imprisonment, and got to see Gabriella and relatives. There were hopes her liberty was a sign of things to come, but instead it just added to a list of false dawns.
To keep his wife’s plight in the public eye, Richard held a jokes for freedom event in March, and a play about Nazanin continued to tour.
Then foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s resignation in July was feared to be another obstacle, but Jeremy Hunt seems to have picked up the baton. He visited Gabriella during his Iran trip last month, and took part in the “Carols for Nazanin” service last week.
The Phoenix Cinema: Rising from the ashes
A board of trustees looking to hand over a historic independent cinema to a chain - it sounds like a low-budget drama.
Instead the very real situation became a heartwarming tale, with more than a hint of comedy.
Curzon Cinemas announced in June that it was due to take over the much-loved Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley.
The ticketing and operations side of it would be passed over to the chain, while the current board of volunteer trustees would still retain ownership of the building.
Yet punters weren’t happy. An anonymous group, Save the Phoenix, was set up, saying it wanted the cinema to be kept in volunteers’ hands, and that a transfer to the Curzon would put jobs and the cinema as we know it at risk.
After the public outcry, and a fractious public meeting, trustees decided to put the move on ice. It is hoping for an upturn in fortunes to keep its finances afloat, and has agreed to do more fundraising, meaning the next few months will be crucial in deciding its fate.
Infected blood scandal: The inquiry opens
Over the last five years, the Ham&High has played a key role in exposing the extent of the UK’s contaminated blood scandal in north London.
In September, victims were hopeful an independent public inquiry into the circumstances in which they were given blood products contaminated with HIV or Hepatitis C would finally bring them justice.
Many of the victims and their families gave statements at the opening of the inquiry led by Sir Brian Langstaff.
One, Highgate mother Della Hirsch, used the opportunity to slam the NHS’s “complicity of silence” over the issue.
Weeks earlier, we revealed the existence of a bizarre but damning interview in which Prof Christine Lee, former director of the Royal Free Hospital’s haemophilia centre, brazenly admitted samples from haemophiliacs had been stored and tested without their consent.
Former patients said this made them feel like “lab rats”.
The inquiry will hear evidence in earnest in 2019.
CS11: Wheels fall off planned cycle route
The controversial CS11 cycle route was stopped in its tracks after years of campaigning by Hampstead lawyer Jessica Learmond-Criqui and others.
A High Court ruling in September found Transport for London had incorrectly modelled for the cycle superhighway, including not considering in detail the effect on nearby roads if only the Swiss Cottage gyratory work were carried out instead of the whole route.
TfL had somehow neglected consent from Westminster Council, the Royal Parks and the Royal Paving Commission before ordering work to begin and even announcing a start date.
In court, Sir Ross Cranston backed Westminster’s legal challenge – and said the route could not proceed.
It sent the transport authority back to the drawing board to come up with new modelling for the section of the scheme in question.
The Ham&High understands it is currently (at last) working out the effect if only the Swiss Cottage work is carried out.
Fire terror: Too many blazes across the borough
After 2017’s Chalcots evacuation and, of course, the Grenfell Tower blaze, this year saw fire safety front and centre in the minds of many.
Luckily, nothing on the scale of Grenfell happened in our patch, but from the November fire in West Hampstead’s Sidings Estate – which claimed the life of much-loved Tony Goodridge – to the inferno that left residents of East Finchley’s Willow House homeless, fire has been an ever-present bogeyman.
A brand new apartment block in West Hampstead also went up in flames in early July.
No one was hurt in the Orwell Building, but former Chelsea manager Avram Grant was spotted during the evacuation of the flash apartments behind West Hampstead Overground station.
Displaced residents there were left homeless, as were those affected by the Willow House fire, with the latter blaze seeing Barnet Council criticised over its handling of the case.
July saw a more positive story. Remarkably, after a fire that devastated its upper floors, the popular Somers Town Coffee House pub in Euston was open again within just three weeks.
Last week, Cayford House in Hampstead was alight, with firefighters successfully dousing a 10th floor fire there. There have been no injuries reported.
Local elections: Labour Barnet hopes dashed, Haringey and Camden stay red
Before May’s local elections. Labour was firmly in control of Camden and Haringey, but hopeful of finally taking control in Barnet.
When the results came in, though Camden and Haringey were still firmly red, Barnet was back under Tory control – with Labour group leader Barry Rawlings laying the blame at the door of the national party’s failure to tackle antisemitism fears.
The Tories had lost their majority in March, when Sury Khatri resigned the whip after not being selected to fight the elections in Mill Hill.
Although Haringey saw a Lib Dem surge in the borough’s west clip Labour’s wings, the party – now led by Jo Ejiofor after a string of former councillors were deselected over the controversial Haringey Development Vehicle – remains firmly in charge with 42 councillors.
Meanwhile Camden’s ruling Labour party increased its stranglehold – all three Tories in Swiss Cottage were booted out in a strong night for leader Georgia Gould.
Hampstead, Highgate and beyond is certainly home to the weird and wonderful.
This year we’ve been baffled by an invisible shop, befuddled by an ice cream “war” and left lost for words by a comedian who was embarrassed to tell doctors about swordfighting injuries.
We can not fathom how the controverisal Nisa supermarket on the site of former Kentish Town pub the Leighton Arms can claim to have been open in August 2017 – it was boarded up, and the Ham&High even took photographs at its launch party (September 2018, if you were wondering). Answers on a postcard, please.
A cold war was brewing during the otherwise sweltering summer as an artisan ice lolly seller pitched up in a sought-after Hampstead Heath spot. Ice cream van man Cen Ahmet said the spot was rightfully his. It wasn’t Cornettos at dawn, but it was a close run thing.
Last but not least, Muswell Hill comedian Paul Duncan McGarritty managed to impale himself on a sword while researching his Edinburgh show, twice. We’ve all been there.