Year in Review: big cats, pharmacy cuts and Superman

PUBLISHED: 09:00 01 January 2018

Is this the end to scepticism about the St Albans big cat?

Is this the end to scepticism about the St Albans big cat?


The new year in St Albans got off to a dramatic start with a husband and wife struggling to access ambulance services on January 2.

Rob Smith wearing Cancer Research UK unity bands.Rob Smith wearing Cancer Research UK unity bands.

The nameless St Albans couple had to be driven to hospital by a paramedic after the husband had a heart attack and an ambulance had still not arrived after two hours. When they arrived at Watford General, they found 14 ambulances waiting outside the A&E department, which the husband described as “like a war zone”.

Later that month, a man was jailed for stealing more than £28,000 from Prae Wood Primary School’s PTA. Dean White, whose partner was treasurer of the PTA, pleaded guilty to theft and fraud and was sentenced to nine months in prison.

A spate of big cats being sighted around the district continued into January, with a ‘large, sandy-coloured cat’ apparently spotted lurking at the Smallford Campus of Oaklands College. In March, a Harpenden motorist saw a “large, panther-like animal” bounding through a field along Marford Road.

A man and his five-year-old son who were out walking later spotted two “dusty, sandy-coloured big cats” in an open field in Tewin. The sightings, however, remained unverified as further evidence of the mysterious ‘Beast of St Albans’ emerged later in the year.

A rock smashed the window of a Jaguar on the A414.A rock smashed the window of a Jaguar on the A414.

An intrepid explorer from Harpenden, Rob Smith, was inspired after surviving cancer to trek to the South Pole to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Rob reached the South Pole early in January, accompanied by fellow explorers Eric Philips and Keith Tuffley.

Speaking about his epic journey, Rob said: “I have nearly completed the second of my biggest challenges in life. One I never wanted and one I want with all my heart.”

The early months of the year also saw a surge in stones being thrown at cars on the A414 and Colney Heath Lane, causing serious damage to vehicles and endangering lives. At least 24 incidents from the same stretch of road were reported to police within two months.

Fortunately no one was seriously injured, but one woman suffered a cut to her hand and another, who was sat in the passenger seat while her husband was driving, described how she had glass in her hair, mouth and shoes after a brick was hurled through the passenger side window. Despite extensive efforts, police were unable to find the culprits and the attacks petered out over time.

Damage to Laura Roberts' car on Wednesday, February 22.Damage to Laura Roberts' car on Wednesday, February 22.

One of the most contentious issues of the early part of this year was St Albans MP Anne Main’s ‘dog poo’ campaign, where she urged dog walkers to flick their pet’s poo into the undergrowth with a stick after receiving complaints from constituents about people leaving dog poo bags hanging from trees.

Mrs Main’s campaign made national news when she raised it in the House of Commons, causing a backlash from residents who argued her priorities were wrong at a time when Parliament was also considering Brexit. Herts county councillor Sandy Walkington described the campaign as “surreal”, while Mrs Main argued that it was a national environmental health issue.

Meanwhile, the conversion of St Albans’ town hall into a new museum and art gallery was well underway. In February, ancient animal bones dating back to the 14th century were discovered during excavation work for a new basement gallery.

Builders converting the Grade II* listed building unearthed jaw bones and ribs of pigs and sheep, perfectly preserved. Cllr Annie Brewster, who is overseeing the building works as portfolio holder for sport, leisure and heritage, told the Herts Ad that a single leather shoe, dating back to medieval times, was also found at the site in a historic cesspit.

St Albans MP Anne Main and her dog, SamSt Albans MP Anne Main and her dog, Sam

A campaign was launched to help 10-year-old Shay, the son of St Albans youth football coach Alan Murray, with Pearson Syndrome, a rare mitochondrial condition.

Shay’s family were trying to raise enough money to turn the downstairs of their home into a palliative care unit for their son, costing about £60,000, half of which would be subsidised by Herts county council.

His mum Sharon said: “For me it’s so important for a child, even for a child limited, to have a childhood, and that’s why the palliative care unit is so important, because he needs his independence as long as possible.”

In February, campaigners in Southdown in Harpenden gathered outside their local pharmacy, which was threatened with closure. Alongside Stephen Fishwick, head of communications at the National Pharmacy Association, concerned residents mounted their placards outside Manor Pharmacy, which was under threat due to government cuts.

Dog poo is being left in bags hanging on branches all over the countryDog poo is being left in bags hanging on branches all over the country

Reverend Gill Hulme, who took part in the protest, described the pharmacy as a “vital community service”, and said that residents would be “totally devastated” if it were to close.

Another local area under threat was the 140-acres of Green Belt land at Symondshyde, between St Albans, Wheathampstead and Hatfield.

The controversial plans, by Gascoyne Cecil Estates, would close a strategic gap between St Albans and Hatfield and has been met with widespread opposition from the ‘Save Symondshyde’ campaign group. Wheathampstead parish councillor Judy Shardlow argued that Welwyn Hatfield Council’s plan would create urban sprawl and force thousands more cars on already congested roads.

Towards the end of March, St Albans and Harpenden schools braced themselves for the impact of government funding cuts to schools.

Animal remains dated to the 14th century have been found along with a single shoe during excavation work for the St Albans Art Gallery and Museum project.Animal remains dated to the 14th century have been found along with a single shoe during excavation work for the St Albans Art Gallery and Museum project.

Alan Henshall, head of Roundwood Park in Harpenden, leads a group of Harpenden headteachers who object to the cuts, which they fear will cause an increase in class sizes and reduction in teaching staff.

In bizarre news: is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the world’s largest collection of Superman memorabilia. Wheathampstead man Marco Superman Zorzin, who changed his name by deed poll to match his hero, revealed the 2,000 individual items in his collection, including toys, clothes and jewellery.

Marco, who named his daughters after Superman characters, started his collection just seven years ago, and includes a six-foot statue of Superman as one of his favourite items.

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