Review of the Year: January and February 2013

South Wales Argus: COLD SNAP: Gritters were out in force as nine inches of snow fell in the region COLD SNAP: Gritters were out in force as nine inches of snow fell in the region

January 1

GWENT teachers had been punched, kicked, stabbed, and had objects thrown at them by pupils, all in a day's work, an Argus investigation revealed.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed there were more than 380 physical attacks on the area's teaching staff by youngsters in the previous three years.

At least four had been stabbed with pens and pencils, several were headbutted, and others had been bitten, hit, scratched and kicked. Chairs, scissors, stones and bottles were among the objects thrown at teachers, with injuries sustained including a cracked rib, concussion, pulled muscles, sprains, cuts, and bruises.

Tim Cox, of teaching union the NASUWT, feared the figures revealed only a fraction of the true number of attacks.

January 3

MUSIC students from across Gwent - backed by parents and other supporters - held a tuneful protest against a proposal by Newport city council to axe its funding for the area's music support service.

The council proposed to cut its £292,000 a year funding toward Gwent Music Support Service (GMSS) as part of a wide-ranging package of budget cuts.

Protesters sang and played an arrangement created for the protest, conducted by Ben Teague, secretary of the GMSS students' committee, which organised a petition against the cut that contained more than 2,000 signatures.

Bassoon player Matthew Petrie, of Monmouth, who had been with the service for eight years, warned that the cut would "crush" GMSS.

January 12

GWENT Police announced that Kyle Vaughan, 24, who had been missing from his Newbridge home for two weeks, was now feared murdered.

Mr Vaughan had gone missing on December 30, and specialist search officers had combed the area around Newbridge using dogs, after his car was found following a suspected road traffic collision.

His disappearance was described as completely out of character and a number of people were arrested on suspicion of murder and other offences in relation to his disappearance, though they were subsequently released.

The former Pot Noodle Factory worker's heartbroken family appealed for help to trace him, and to end their "nightmare."

January 14

AS part of our campaign to persuade the city council to keep free parking in Newport city centre beyond the end of January, the Argus unveiled '5,345 Reasons To Keep It Free' in the form of the names of that number of people who signed our petition in support of the proposal.

Traders had hailed the scheme as a lifeline in tough economic times and feared shoppers would simply take their business elsewhere if charges were reintroduced after a period of free parking before and after Christmas.

The council accepted the scheme had brought more people into the city centre, but called it "unsustainable" and proposed a £1 charge for the first three hours in all council-run car parks from February 1.

January 16

NEWPORT Gwent Dragons forward Andrew Coombs described as "a dream come true" his call-up to Wales' Six Nations squad.

Coombs was named in a 35-man squad ahead of the tournament, just a month after returning from a knee injury that had kept him out of action since the previous August.

"I knew there were a lot of injuries but I never quite believed I would get picked. I was blown away," he said.

Coombs went on to make his debut at second row in February, in the opening Six Nations defeat against Ireland, receiving rave reviews, and he played an integral part in helping Wales retain the title.

January 18-22

IT began with warnings of "absolute chaos" and a run on essential food items at Gwent supermarkets - and within hours those warnings were proved well-founded.

Much of South Wales ground to a halt as nine inches of snow, driven by high winds, fell in the region during the early hours of Friday January 18.

People woke up to blocked roads and snow-covered vehicles as the white-out continued until past breakfast time. Several roads had been blocked by fallen trees, victims of the sheer weight of snow that had accumulated on their branches.

More than 250 schools in Gwent were closed, 350 homes were left without power, and many roads, including some major routes, were rendered unpassable for much of the day.

The snow was good news for thousands of schoolchildren, who swapped studying for sledging. Ironically, given the countless hillsides being used as makeshift slopes, the ski slope at Pontypool was unable to operate during the Friday morning.

Many people who were able to walk to work did so, through streets that were eerily quiet and free of traffic, apart from some intrepid - or foolhardy - souls who gambled on their vehicles being able to cope.

But others simply could not make it into work because the distances they normally had to travel proved impossible to cover given the limited transport options available.

Bus services were suspended in many parts of Gwent for several hours, as were rail services on both main and valleys lines.

The freezing temperatures then created a big headache in the form of ice.

For many people, the subsequent weekend provided the opportunity to build snowmen and continue sledging, but for others there were roads and paths to be cleared and vehicles to be dug out.

And for some couples, the big freeze provided the opportunity for the whitest of white weddings.

The Argus reported that Thomas and Sarah Summers, of Cwmbran, managed to tie the knot as planned at Pontypool register office in defiance of the conditions, as did Andrew and Leanne Martin, at Newport's Mansion House.

The snow and ice continued to cause problems into the following week. Three pupils sustained minor injuries when a school bus slid off the road and down a bank at Abercarn on Monday January 21.

More than 200 Gwent schools remained closed for safety reasons on Tuesday January 22, despite a thaw beginning, and rural areas remained affected for several days afterward.

January 26

RUGBY player-turned adventurer Richard Parks faced rescue from Antarctica after being forced to abandon his solo trek to the South Pole just days from the end.

He tweeted that he had "simply run out of time" as, hampered by a late start to the expedition due to lost luggage, and later by horrific weather conditions, he could no longer make it to the pole by January 28, to get the last flight of the season.

He also had to cope with the physical rigours of a trek that had seen him cover 605 miles in 39 days, with 294 hours of skiing while carrying all his supplies. He said the experience had left him weaker than ever, and "skin and bones."

February 2

CONTROVERSIAL plans for a waste incinerator in Newport were all but dashed after a multi-million pound contract was recommended for a company proposing to build in Cardiff.

The Prosiect Gwyrdd scheme recommended a plan by company Viridor for a waste burner in Cardiff to its five council backers, including three in Gwent.

The decision remained to be ratified by each council, but it meant there would have to be a u-turn in order for French firm Veolia to get the local authority consortium's contract to burn non-recyclable rubbish at a proposed incinerator on the Llanwern steelworks site.

Veolia said it respected the decision of the Prosiect Gwyrdd board.

February 7

TATTOOED officers faced the prospect of having to cover up while on duty as part of Gwent Police and Crime Commissioner Ian Johnston's plans to boost people's confidence in the police.

Mr Johnston told the Argus he thought it was "wholly inappropriate" for officers to have tattoos on show whilst on duty, claiming they give "totally the wrong impression."

"If they decide to have this body art, while on duty they should cover it up," said Mr Johnston.

His proposal formed part of a wider range of plans to get people to have more faith in the force, after a Home Office crime survey showed Gwent Police was the joint worst performing force in England and Wales, based on people's attitudes towards the police.

February 9

PLANS to opencast mine at a site at Varteg, near Blaenavon, were recommended for approval by a Welsh Government planning inspector.

Clive Nield recommended that then environment minister John Griffiths approve a scheme by Glamorgan Power to extract 256,000 tonnes of coal from the Varteg site, subject to planning conditions.

Mr Griffiths, in a letter, said he was "minded to approve" subject to conditions being agreed. Glamorgan Power had appealed against Torfaen council's refusal of planning permission for the scheme early in 2011, amid concerns over dust and noise pollution.

The company argued that opencast mining is the only way to achieve reclamation of the site, but campaigners against the proposal argued it was too near homes and a school.

February 14

A CITY council report suggested that the Newport Ship might be disposed of, or handed over to another organisation.

The proposals emerged in a committee report on possible future savings, which outlined cuts in the budget for the ship of £290,000 between 2013/14 and 2015/16.

The report stated that conservation would be completed by October 2014 and in 2015/16 "the conserved timber will need to be disposed of or stored by another museum/responsible body."

But it continued that there could be an opportunity for earlier savings if a lease arrangement could be made with a third party organisation to take over the project.

February 18

BRYNMAWR residents vowed to save their "iconic" cinema by setting up a social enterprise and running it themselves, if Blaenau Gwent council pressed ahead with plans to close it.

More than 4,000 people signed a petition and around 100 staged a protest outside the town's Market Hall cinema, which faced the axe as part of the council's proposals to save £3.9 million.

The council estimated that closure could save it £300,000 - but Save Our Cinema group secretary Andrea Durban said the Market Hall, which opened as a cinema in 1894, was "very dear to the heart of the community."

February 25

ABERGAVENNY cyclist Becky James became the first Briton to win four medals at a single World Championships with stunning performances at the event in Minsk.

James, 21, won her maiden world title in the women's sprint on day one and then won the women's keirin on the fifth and final day, to go with two bronze medals won earlier in the championships.

She said she had had very little sleep on the eve of her second triumph, but had not felt tired and "got every little bit out of my legs."

Despite the subsequent pain from her exertions, she described the achievement as "a complete dream."

February 25

MORE than 700 parents and pupils took part in a protest march urging Caerphilly council to reopen Cwmcarn High School.

Wielding banners and placards, they marched through Cwmcarn, to the school gates, demanding an end to a saga that had begun the previous October with closure in the aftermath of a survey that concluded that staff and pupils could be at risk from airborne asbestos particles.

Pupils had since been taught at Ebbw Vale, but subsequent surveys had given conflicting findings.

March organiser Kelly East said many parents feared the council wanted to use the issue as an excuse to close the school, to solve a wider problem with excess places.

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