Review of 2012: Gloom at the top - events in Leicestershire - May and June
It has been a year of accusations and investigations in Leicestershire politics, all set to the depressing background noise of millions being hacked off council budgets, the occasional blown whistle and the drip, drip, drip of leaked information. Politics correspondent Dan Martin looks back at an eventful 2012.
Undoubtedly the biggest politics story of the past year was that of the long drawn-out departure of David Parsons from County Hall. In April, the then council leader, with the backing of his Tory colleagues, survived a Labour and Liberal Democrat vote of no confidence after it was revealed he and his office had cost taxpayers £1 million over five years – including £210,000 for his chauffeur-driven car – at a time of savage budget cuts.
Then it emerged a whistle-blower had come forward with allegations – robustly denied – that Councillor Parsons had not been reimbursing the county council for expenses he had claimed for trips to Europe.
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He protested his innocence – while initially refusing investigators access to his expenses records and talking of “dark forces” working to unseat him at County Hall.
In June, he was brought before the council’s standards committee, censured and told he had disregarded four key principles of public life – honesty, integrity, accountability and leadership – after allowing more than £5,400 of the council’s cash to build up in his personal bank account.
Coun Parsons issued an unreserved apology but resisted calls to step down – including some from Tory councillors.
He eventually quit in July – minutes before County Hall’s Conservative Group was to vote on whether to sack him as leader – and was succeeded by his tough-talking deputy, Nick Rushton.
Yet another investigation was launched – to see if Coun Parsons had breached Conservative rules – and again he dodged the axe by quitting the party the day before it voted unanimously to expel him.
A furious Coun Rushton vowed he would be tough with his misbehaving troops in the future.
His promise will be put to the test in the new year when he decides what action to take against his own deputy – the astonishingly frank David Sprason – who has temporarily stepped down after a leaked letter revealed he and his wife watched a pornographic film on a council laptop five years ago.
While all this was happening, Leicester City Council was facing its own scandal.
The city council’s Labour group also faced a standards wrangle, as Lord Mayor Rob Wann was accused of getting parking tickets quashed by top council officers.
He was censured in June for bringing his position as a councillor into disrepute. However, he did not attend his hearing, and labelled the decision a “complete joke” and a stitch-up by city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. Councillor Wann then found himself at the centre of another politics storm when he faced being disqualified as a councillor for not attending any meetings in almost six months.
His absence was noted by residents in his Thurncourt ward – where one of the thorniest political issues of the year was developing over a disused Scout hut.
When a Muslim charity asked the city council if it could lease the building, residents on the estate began to hold daily protests outside a nearby community centre where the Muslim group had been meeting to pray for two years.
The English Defence League turned up and BNP leader Nick Griffin made an appearance.
Those on both sides of the argument said they were unwelcome – as the bill for policing the protest spiralled.
Finding a solution to the problem will be one of the tough decisions facing Sir Peter in the new year.
That and finding locations to put traveller and gypsy camps somewhere in the city. So far, thousands of people have opposed camps being sited near their homes.
Sir Peter will also wish to move on from the furore over his – and deputy mayor Rory Palmer’s – pay rises and the launch of a petition seeking a referendum on whether to scrap his job entirely.
However, the city mayor may get some royal relief in 2013, with the hopeful confirmation that a skeleton found under a municipal car park is that of King Richard III – prompting a rebranding of the city and a tourism drive.
Sir Peter will also be looking forward to honouring the current monarch by completing his plans for a £4 million Jubilee Square.
November saw the arrival of a new name on the political scene, with the election of the first police and crime commissioner.
Former senior RAF officer and Tory candidate Sir Clive Loader defeated Labour’s Sarah Russell and independent Suleman Nagdi on a 16 per cent turnout – one of the lowest ever seen in Leicestershire and Rutland.
This year also saw outspoken Market Harborough-based Euro MP Roger Helmer defect from the Tories to UKIP.
And Keith Vaz celebrated his 25th year as Leicester East MP. Congratulations, Keith.
May 3, 2012, marked the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
While Gerry McCann, a cardiologist, reported for work at Leicester's Glenfield Hospital, Kate spent the day at home in Rothley with the couple's other children, twins Amelie and Sean.
Madeleine would now be nine years old.
The month of the Eurovision Song Contest.
But this year's event had added meaning for Leicestershire as Great Glen crooner Engelbert Humperdinck took to the stage to represent the UK.
Unfortunately, the singer finished last-but-one, scoring just 12 points.
Fellow Leicester musician Serge Pizzorno, guitarist with Kasabian, was celebrating after scoring a "wonder goal" during the annual charity Soccer Aid match at Old Trafford.
At Hamilton Community College, Leicester, hundreds of teenagers were tested for tuberculosis after three pupils were diagnosed with the disease.
And at Crown Hills College, in Spinney Hills, Leicester, there was outrage after three teenagers took the keys to a teacher's car and went for a joyride in the city.
It was the end of an era in Churchgate, in the city centre, as family business Mays closed its doors following almost 100 years.
Leicestershire Police came under fire after it emerged that they were still in possession of a man's brain – 20 years after his death.
John Warren, of Ratby, told the Mercury of his horror at learning that his son Jamie's brain was being stored at a mortuary on behalf of the Leicestershire force.
Police revealed that an audit of human tissue held by the force had uncovered a further five brains and one lung. The body parts belong to seven people who were murdered or died in suspicious circumstances between 1992 and 1999.
The Mercury reported on a tragedy at Leicester Royal Infirmary, where distraught mum Sara Proud had given birth in a hospital waiting room, and was then told her baby had died.
The incident happened after Sara arrived at the hospital only to be told midwives were too busy to move her into a labour ward.
On Thursday, June 28, a freak tornado ripped through the county, damaging buildings and cars and tearing up trees.
While lightning hit buildings in the city centre, and flash floods and hailstones the size of golf balls rained down in some areas, some parts of the county were completely unaffected.
Firefighters responded to 190 incidents in four hours – five times more than they would normally deal with in 24 hours.
The community in Northfields, Leicester, was left in shock after the death of father-of-two Ponnuthurai Nimalaraja.
The 41-year-old fell backwards and hit his head after being punched by a teenager. He died in hospital a week later.
The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty of manslaughter in November and will be sentenced next month.
Football fans were annoyed when city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby announced Euro 2012 matches would not be shown on the big screen in Humberstone Gate due to the costs involved.
Supporters were left even more disappointed when England crashed out in the quarter final, losing to Italy on penalties.
Staff at the George Halls Cycle Centre, in Market Harborough, were amazed when Russell Crowe paid them a visit. He had come a cropper while riding in the area.
The Hollywood star was in the area filming for the new version of Les Miserables at Boughton House, near Kettering.