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Kent Messenger Review of the Year: Part one

The last 12 months have been packed full of events including a number of high profile court cases, incredible tales of miracle children and one businessman's idea to sell jars of air from the Alps.

In this review of the year we take a look at the tragedies, crimes and human interest stories to hit the headlines over the course of 2017.


Francis O'Sullivan died after an incident at a New Year's Day pram race. Picture: Andy Jones
Francis O'Sullivan died after an incident at a New Year's Day pram race. Picture: Andy Jones

The year kicked off on a sombre note with the death of Francis ‘Titch’ O’Sullivan at the Sutton Valence pram race on New Year’s Day. The protest outside Maidstone Mosque also seemed to start a trend for the year, with multiple further demonstrations from far right group Britain First against plans to regenerate the site on Mote Road. Snow came in the middle of the month, with plenty of traffic woe as a result, and the shocking story of a young man who crashed into his friend’s front room after skidding on ice.


Fred Butcher is facing a long prison sentence
Fred Butcher is facing a long prison sentence

February started with the sad news that the body of Ben Savage, a former Holmesdale School student who had been missing since December, had been found in the River Medway. There was also a shocking attack on a Maidstone retirement home manager by one of the residents. The attempted murder trial of Fred Butcher has rumbled on throughout the year, with sentencing delayed as the judge waits for psychiatric assessments to be carried out. We also covered the funeral of John Gale, a Maidstone veteran who survived war, starvation and Nazi experiments at Auschwitz. Advancements in DNA technology meant that a vile sex offender, John Clayson, was finally locked up after attacks more than 25 years ago.


Burst water main in Maidstone High Street
Burst water main in Maidstone High Street

The bizarre story of a Tunbridge Wells businessman’s plans to flog jars of Swiss air to Brits ‘who have everything’ was a firm favourite in the newsroom from March. We also reported the unnerving story of a pensioner who was receiving anonymous sexually explicit letters at her home in Ditton. Homes and businesses around Maidstone town centre were left without water for much of the day on Friday, March 17 after a main burst in the High Street. There was also the news that the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance would be moving out of Marden to Rochester.


April was the month that so-called ‘paedophile hunter’ groups really came to the fore, with videos shared widely online depicting men from Stockbury and Cranbrook being caught in Maidstone’s Mote Park. Passers-by were forced to jump out of the way as a car came careering down pedestrianised Week Street later in the month, and the driver then locked himself in a King Street cafe and demanded sausage and mash for breakfast. A driver who had crossed into a bus lane and gone through a red light to skip traffic admitted dangerous driving when he appeared in crown court, and a Addington man Nick Jones died after the car he was working on fell on top of him after the jack gave way.


Razvan Sirbu
Razvan Sirbu

More than 10,000 people signed a petition against cutting rail services between Ashford and Tonbridge, which would affect trains calling at Headcorn, Staplehurst, Marden and Paddock Wood. Churchgoers in Offham were celebrating after the Heritage Lottery Fund gave St Michael’s Church £65,000 for much needed repairs. There was some sad news however, with the body of Razvan Sirbu found in Tovil, and a murder inquiry launched, the trial of which started in December.


Bob Solly and Topper Headon, former drummer with The Clash, unveiling of the blue plaque to David Bowie who played with the Manish Boys at the Royal Star Hotel in Maidstone.
Bob Solly and Topper Headon, former drummer with The Clash, unveiling of the blue plaque to David Bowie who played with the Manish Boys at the Royal Star Hotel in Maidstone.

June started with the sad death of Ben Sharman, who was found in the street outside his Peel Street home. There was however good news as a dad delivered his baby daughter at the side of the road after he and his wife were diverted off the A21 on their way to Tunbridge Wells Hospital at Pembury. David Bowie was commemorated with a blue plaque in the Royal Star Arcade, and Custard Pie Championship organiser Mike FitzGerald was named in the Queen’s birthday honours list.

The second half of our review of the year will be available online tomorrow.

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