ARGUS REVIEW OF 2012: January and February

South Wales Argus: MURDERED: Nikitta Grender and her unborn daughter were killed by Carl Whant MURDERED: Nikitta Grender and her unborn daughter were killed by Carl Whant

Today, we begin our review of the year.

ANDY RUTHERFORD takes a look at the events which made the headlines in January and February.

JANUARY:

January 3: THE 200-year-old Kings Hotel – a Newport city centre landmark – closed its doors for good suddenly, following what a spokesman called a “severe” downturn in trade in the previous 12 months.

The hotel’s 20 staff were facing up to redundancy and just three remained, tasked with trying to contact all those who had future bookings. Priority was being given to those who had booked wedding ceremonies and receptions.

The closure was described as a “tragedy” for Newport by then Chamber of Trade president Ken Ellis.

The three-star hotel had 61 en suite double, single and family rooms, four function rooms with capacity for 450 guests, a restaurant and a bar.

Its entire contents – down to the crockery and cutlery – were sold off at auction several weeks later.

January 5: MARKS and Spencer gave Newport a welcome, albeit temporary, retail boost by declaring it was to delay by a year its move out of the city centre to the retail park at Spytty.

The company was due to close its Commercial Street store this month, but announced it would put off the move until spring 2013.

Local politicians and the city council had campaigned to encourage M&S to stay in the already hard-pressed city centre.

Then council leader Matthew Evans said he hoped the company would “seriously reconsider its plans and keep a presence in the city centre.”

M&S customers and other city centre traders welcomed the decision to stay, but Newport West MP Paul Flynn said that while the decision was welcome, “we need to be realistic.”

“It’s not just a problem with Newport, but with all towns and cities, where there is a stampede of companies moving to out-of-town centres,” he said.

January 19: HUNDREDS of shoppers in Abergavenny watched Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May whizz around the town centre on mobility scooters, during a morning filming for the popular TV show.

Driving customised scooters that included a six-wheeler, another with tank tracks, and a power chair, the trio motored down the High Street, calling in at shops and the Market Hall.

Caroline Brock, a fan of the show, was challenged to a race by Mr Hammond and delivered on her promise that she would be faster than him by beating him – twice.

January 21: THE annual parade to remember Cwmbran war hero John Fielding VC went ahead, despite initially being cancelled earlier in the month because Gwent Police could no longer police it.

A U-turn by the force followed calls for common sense from Torfaen MP Paul Murphy and the Argus.

The march marked the 133rd anniversary of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, in which Private John Fielding served as Pte John Williams and received the Victoria Cross for his bravery in defending the remote outpost against 4,000 Zulus.

Mr Murphy said the coverage in the Argus had helped persuade Gwent Police that this was an event of national significance, rather than one just for the local community.

January 23: PEOPLE in Blaenavon launched a campaign to fight the closure of the town’s last remaining bank.

The branch of HSBC on Broad Street was slated for closure in May, a move traders, residents and councillors warned would be devastating for the town, forcing shoppers elsewhere and taking business away.

HSBC claimed the branch was no longer economically viable, but that did not stop traders and others from organising the campaign to try to persuade the bank to reverse its decision.

Public meetings were held and a delegation of campaigners met HSBC regional bosses.

But despite their efforts, the bank closed as proposed in May.

January 28: PUPILS from Newport’s Monnow Primary School said hello to a new teacher – comedian Rhod Gilbert.

He spent three days at the school, filming for an episode of his television series Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience.

His tasks included observing lessons, planning activities, and teaching at the school for a day. Lessons included music, poetry, arts and crafts, and storytime.

“It has been incredible. My favourite bit has been the hilarious things the children come out with,” he said.

“It’s an amazing place. I don’t want to leave. It makes you realise, too, the responsibility teachers have.”

January 30: FRESH plans to redevelop Newport’s Cambrian Centre included a seven-storey office block, shops and an hotel, the Argus revealed.

A high-rise office near Queensway and Railway Street, alterations to the existing car parks, and part-demolition and refurbishment of an existing upper level empty retail unit were also among the proposals.

The long-awaited plans from Scarborough Development Group came after two previous bids to transform the centre were scrapped.

An additional 1,200 jobs were predicted to be brought into the city by the project, according to the city council.

FEBRUARY

February 2: AL Qaida-inspired terrorists plotted to bomb London’s Stock Exchange during a meeting in a Gwent beauty spot, a court was told.

Nine men, including three from Wales, admitted various terror offences at Woolwich Crown Court in London, in connection with a plot to send mail bombs to high-profile targets in 2010.

In a bid to make surveillance difficult, the would-be terrorists met to discuss the plot in parks, including Cwmcarn Forest Drive.

February 6: PEOPLE in Newport reacted angrily to the portrayal of the city in the controversial TV documentary Bouncers.

The Channel Four programme followed door staff from a city firm as they dealt with drunken revellers, but caused outrage, not least because of comments about clubgoers by staff from the firm, LRS Security, which had subsequently ceased trading.

Its managing director Richard Davis apologised for any offence caused and said that good things said about Newport by staff were left out of the film, and the version aired was different to that he had been shown previously.

Politicians, police and senior Newport council bosses said they felt the documentary failed to show a balanced picture of Newport. Channel Four defended the programme, saying it showed the reality of doormen’s working lives.

February 10: TWO brothers won their fight to buy their childhood home, thanks to the Argus.

Ian and Karl Denning and their father Thomas had saved enough money to buy their home from Bron Afon Community Housing, but before the paperwork was handed over, the latter died and Bron Afon said the brothers were not entitled to buy and would have to move out.

Following coverage in the Argus, the housing association did a U-turn and allowed the sale. Ian Denning said he was “totally gobsmacked” and thanked the Argus for highlighting their case.

February 17: IN an exclusive interview in the Argus, Rachel Williams, shot and seriously injured by her estranged husband Darren at a Newport hair salon in August 2011, said she was beginning to rebuild her life.

But Mrs Williams said she had good days and bad days, and despite a gradual physical recovery from horrendous shotgun-inflicted injuries to her left knee, emotional damage caused by her son Jack’s subsequent death was proving harder to overcome.

Mr Williams was found hanging in woods hours after shooting Mrs Williams at the Carol Ann Hair Salon on Malpas Road. Jack was also found hanging late in September 2011, in woods where his father’s ashes had been scattered.

February 18: COUNCIL tenants in Caerphilly county borough became the first in Gwent to vote against transferring housing stock to a private landlord.

The council’s 13,300 tenants voted on whether ownership of its 10,939 homes should be transferred to social landlord Castell Mynydd.

More than 8,800 tenants (66.7 per cent) cast a vote and almost two thirds of them voted ‘no’ to a transfer.

Ownership and management of Caerphilly’s housing stock thus stayed with the council, which is responsible for bringing it up to the required Welsh Housing Quality Standard. An estimated £808million is set to be invested into council homes in the next 30 years.

February 22: CARL Whant began a life sentence after being jailed for a minimum of 35 years for the rape and murder of pregnant teenager Nikitta Grender.

The 27-year-old was branded a “calculating, vain and devious individual” by the judge Mr Justice John Griffith Williams, who told him his actions had left Miss Grender’s family, her boyfriend, and friends “bereft.”

A jury at Newport Crown Court took just over four hours to find Whant guilty of the murder of Miss Grender, of destroying her unborn child Kelsey-May, and of rape and arson, acts committed on February 5 2011.

Miss Grender’s body had been found in the bedroom of the flat she shared with boyfriend Ryan Mayes, in Broadmead Park, Lliswerry, Newport.

After a drink and drug-fuelled night out with Mr Mayes – his cousin – and friends in Newport, What had gone to a house party in Corelli Street, leaving at 5am and driving to Broadmead Park where he raped and murdered Miss Grender.

Whant had initially denied ever having sex with his victim, only admitting it when his defence statement was submitted weeks before the trial, but claiming it was consensual.

He had said he had left the party to get cigarettes from his nan’s house.

Miss Grender’s parents Marcia Grender and Paul Brunnock, Mr Mayes, and family and friends were in the packed public gallery to hear the verdict in a case that generated enormous public interest in South Wales and across the UK.

They listened as Mr Justice Griffith Williams told Whant: “Only you know the full facts and circumstances of these offences, but you have shown no remorse and, in an act of extraordinary hypocrisy, took flowers to the Grender household.

“I’m satisfied you decided to go to her flat, but you knew she was unlikely to agree to consensual sex so you went armed with a knife.

“It is likely that she let you in, believing that Ryan Mayes was with you, and you were able to overpower her, but she was able to put up some resistance.

“She made it clear to you that she was going to report you for raping her and that is why you murdered her.”

Her family and Mr Mayes said in a statement paying tribute to Miss Grender: “We will never deal with the tragic events that have stolen our family from us.”

For the first time, the trial was covered by the South Wales Argus on the social networking site Twitter, reflecting the gravity of the crime and the impact it had on the community.

February 24: A LISTED Newport building left in ruins after an arson attack in August 2010 was officially reopened.

Specialist contractors restored the Grade II-Listed teahouse in BelleVue Park to its former glory in a £70,000 project paid for through an insurance settlement.

The 100-year-old building opened for business once more with children from the city’s StWoolos Primary School, Gaer Junior School, and Ysgol Gymraeg Casnewydd enjoying refreshments.

Strict guidelines about paint and fire-proofing were among the procedures that had to be followed during the restoration, due to the building’s listed status.

February 28: NEWPORT was judged to have Wales’ dirtiest streets, according to figures released by Keep Wales Tidy.

After surveying streets in Wales’ 22 local authority areas, those in Newport were given the lowest cleanliness index rating of 64.9.

Litter was found to be predominantly of four types – smoking-related, drinks-related, sweets and crisps wrappers, and fast-food litter.

Newport council said 90 per cent of its streets were litterfree and the KeepWales Tidy figures were out of date as the city was surveyed in August and December 2010, and the statistics only provided a snapshot of less than three per cent of streets over just four days.

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