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Review of the year 2019: From Nazanin, youth violence and Abacus to sheep on Hampstead Heath – and more

PUBLISHED: 10:37 31 December 2019 | UPDATED: 10:37 31 December 2019

Some of the Ham&High's most striking front pages of 2019.

Some of the Ham&High's most striking front pages of 2019.

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2019 has been an up-and-down year for many in north London.

Richard Ratcliffe outside of the Iranian Embassy at the end of day four of his and Nazanin's hunger strike. Picture: Sam VolpeRichard Ratcliffe outside of the Iranian Embassy at the end of day four of his and Nazanin's hunger strike. Picture: Sam Volpe

There's been continued youth violence, and some long-running sagas - Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's fate, the contaminated blood scandal - remain unsolved.

But things have not been all bad. This has been they year society, and our children, have woken up to the dangers of the climate emergency, and we've even seen sheep return to Hampstead Heath.

Here is our look back at an interesting year.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe embraces daughter Gabriella, 4, after being released from Iranian prison on a temporary furlough. Picture: Richard RatcliffeNazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe embraces daughter Gabriella, 4, after being released from Iranian prison on a temporary furlough. Picture: Richard Ratcliffe

#FreeNazanin: The nightmare continues

It was a trauamatic 2019 for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who has now now spent four Christmases in Evin Prison.

In January she held her first hunger strike of the year, to protest about the absence of medical care. A second followed in June and during the latter, she was joined by husband Richard, who also refused to eat while camped in front of the Iranian Embassy in Knightsbridge.

The deputation from Abacus Belsize Primary School, including headteacher Vicky Briody tell the planning committee why it should approve its move into the police station. Picture: Polly HancockThe deputation from Abacus Belsize Primary School, including headteacher Vicky Briody tell the planning committee why it should approve its move into the police station. Picture: Polly Hancock

Shortly after her second strike, Nazanin spent a week chained to a bed in a mental health ward and later released a heartbreaking open letter explaining her "desolation".

In October, her daughter Gabriella flew home - she is set to start school - and throughout the year the family's indefatigable campaign has put pressure on the UK government to do more.

Of course, Nazanin is not the only north London woman in Iranian prison. One of her cellmates, Aras Amiri, is from Crouch End. Aras lost an appeal against a 10-year sentence for spying in August. The British Council worker was arrested in March as Iran's "state hostage-taking" ramped up.

Mark Ward outside of Church House, Westminster ahead of the preliminary hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry. Picture: Polly HancockMark Ward outside of Church House, Westminster ahead of the preliminary hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry. Picture: Polly Hancock

Abacus Belsize: Council says plans don't add up to move into police station

A subject that filled, and continues to occupy, the letters pages this year was the renewed effort by Abacus Belsize Primary School to move into Hampstead Police Station.

The previous iteration of plans was rejected in 2014 but the school, backed by academy chain Anthem came back again to try and move the 240-pupil school into the site in Rosslyn Hill.

Candles were lit at St Mary's Church in Primrose Hill for young victims of violent crime in Camden. Those present incuded Cllr Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council, the Bishop of Edmonton the Rev'd Rob Wickham, and St Mary's vicar the Rev'd Marjorie Brown Picture: Polly Hancock Candles were lit at St Mary's Church in Primrose Hill for young victims of violent crime in Camden. Those present incuded Cllr Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council, the Bishop of Edmonton the Rev'd Rob Wickham, and St Mary's vicar the Rev'd Marjorie Brown Picture: Polly Hancock

The move divided the community as scores of parents disagreed with neighbours in Downshire Hill and the roads nearby. Tensions came to a head at a public meeting in January and the eventual planning showdown in November.

In the end, Camden's planning committee turned it down unanimously over concerns about traffic, air pollution, a lack of outside space and the damage to the Grade-II listed building. All eight members of the panel voted against it. Anthem and Abacus are expected to launch a legal challenge against it in the New Year, meaning that the battle for Hampstead Police Station will continue.

Contaminated blood scandal: The inquiry listens, but is it enough?

Rokesly schoolchildren got behind an anti-idling campaign. Picture: Sam VolpeRokesly schoolchildren got behind an anti-idling campaign. Picture: Sam Volpe

In 2019, Sir Brian Langstaff fulfilled his promise - thus far, at least - that the inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal would be one that listened to the victims.

Many of the infected and affected, including ex-patients at the Royal Free in Hampstead, have given evidence of the trauma they have suffered.

One, Mark Ward, told of the homophobic attitudes which exacerbated him being given AIDs and hepatitis as a teenager.

A Norfolk Horn sheep on Hampstead Heath in London, after sheep were returned for the first time since the 1950s as part of a week-long trial to see if grazing could prove an eco-friendly way of maintaining the centuries-old heath. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor / PAA Norfolk Horn sheep on Hampstead Heath in London, after sheep were returned for the first time since the 1950s as part of a week-long trial to see if grazing could prove an eco-friendly way of maintaining the centuries-old heath. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor / PA

Another, Della Ryness-Hirsch told the inquiry of te horrors she experienced watching her son Nick die of hepatitis. But huge problems remain with the scope and nature of the support available to those affected, as we reported in May. Patients complained at being forced to "jump through hoops" for assistance, while others including slammed having been "forced to beg" for financial help.

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The ongoing inquiry will hear from medical professionals in the new year.

The climate emergency: Kids wise up

Led by schoolchildren, 2019 was a year where the world - and north London - woke up to the very real peril posed by the climate emergency.

The Ham&High turned green in October as part of a special edition about this, and we have spent the year reporting on community-led efforts to reduce fossil fuel and car use and to improve our air quality.

Credit must go to children, first of all. At schools from Netley Primary in Euston to Rokesly School in Crouch End, the children have been - with the help of their parents and teachers - taking part the school strikes and demonstrating against idling drivers.

Meanwhile in NW3, the Green School Runs group has been trialling alternatives to the school run and in Muswell Hill schools like Fortismere have installed solar panels on their roofs.

Highgate School has also seen its remarkable 'climate council' work with the community to reduce carbon emissions.

Youth violence: Another bloody year in north London

During one week in September, three young people were killed in Camden.

Sakhira Loseke, 22, Assad Yarow, 25, and Wilson Varela, 24, all saw their lives cut short within four days.

In July, Abdullahi Hassan, 20, was killed in South Hampstead while August saw Alex Smith, 16, fatally knifed in Regent's Park. April saw Calvin Bungisa, 22, stabbed by a still-unknown group of men in Gospel Oak, while in February Bright Akinleye, also 22, died in the foyer of a Euston Street hotel after being attacked.

After a similarly bloody 2018, this year has seen a number of initiatives to try to tackle the problem of youth violence, while at times - such as at a vigil at St Mary's Church in Primrose Hill in September- the only thing for the community to do has been to remember those who have been lost.

At that vigil, the Bishop of Edmonton Rev'd Rob Wickham called youth violence "a societal issue", that we all need to tackle together.

2019: From the sublime to the ridiculous

The news hasn't been all baaad.

Sheep took over Hampstead Heath for the first time in a generation over the summer

The news went from sheep feasting among the fir trees to them being stolen as green-fingered thieves made off with thousands of pounds of Christmas trees in Highgate in early December.

It wasn't the only dash of pril over the festive period, as the Hornsey Moravian Church caught fire.

As the mercury surged in June, tempers also reached fever pitch as a top Royal Free doc and the chair of Gayton Road residents' association was caught on camera hurling rubbish bags over a neighbour's fence. With such compelling video footage, even the culprit couldn't claim he had been framed.

Earlier in the year, the March day a huge rig of scaffolding collapsed in Pond Street will live long in the memory - notably because miraculously nobody was injured. We still don't know officially why it happened.


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