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North Devon Journal reporters recall their favourite stories of 2012

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 04, 2013

  • LIFE-SAVING: Ben Waterfall who managed to resuscitate his poorly tortoise. Picture: Mike Southon. Ref: BNMS20120727D-005_C

  • EMOTIONAL: Jessica Skinner from Torrington made the front page of the Journal 18 years ago. Picture: Mike Southon.Ref: BNMS20120702F-004_C

  • FUNDRAISERS: Members of the Dogs Helping Kids team, Jackie Harrison, Zaina Nasser, Melanie Cotterill and Tracey Berridge. Picture: Mike Southon. Ref: BNMS20120909C-004_C

  • VISITOR: This eagle owl became a famous sight in North Devon. Picture: Tiffany Bird.

  • EXCITING: Aiden Curtis and his family found a message in a bottle washed up on Saunton Beach. Picture:Paula Davies.Ref: BNPD20120220D-009_C

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North Devon Journal reporters Will Topps, Francesca Taffs, Nicole Travers-Wakeford, Philippa Jenkins and Andrea Foster reflect on the past 12 months and their favourite stories of 2012.

DEALING with the crimes and misdemeanours of North Devonians is usually a serious business, but it can have its moments.

And some of the most amusing and enjoyable moments I've had this year at work have come while covering court.

Just last week I wrote a report about a man who tried to get away with growing 65 cannabis plants by claiming he grew them as an experiment.

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James Hooper, 42, of Windy Ways, High Wall, Sticklepath, said he had planned to try and give a fully grown plant a sex change and when police asked him why he had grown so many plants he simply told them, "I got carried away".

And there was the case of cannabis addicted 19-year-old Mark Barrow, of 58, Silver Heights, Barnstaple, who caused criminal damage to a wall and claimed "ghosts had made him do it".

Obviously in his case there were serious issues at play, but momentarily the thought of a spectre telling him to attack a wall seemed amusing.

Slightly less serious and somewhat more strange was the case of David John Collins, 43, of 23, Bellaire Drive, Barnstaple, who refused to leave a kebab shop at closing time and then fell asleep on the pavement.

But the funniest tale I heard in court this year was the case of hapless Bideford man Geoffrey Richard Harry Winston of 21 Capern Road.

Winston, 29, was described as "lacking in aptitude" by his own solicitor after being caught shoplifting at Asda.

Winston would have got away with the crime, had he not stopped to read a magazine as he left the store, giving security guards time to look through CCTV footage and watch him put three bottles of whisky in his bag.

And Winston was so engrossed in the magazine he was still reading it 20 minutes later when police arrived to arrest him.

Will Topps

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THERE are some truly weird, wonderful and, at times, woeful stories to be reported on in North Devon.

But there are two that stick out in my mind as particularly memorable.

The first came after I had been working at the Journal for less than a month.

The phone call I received went something like this: "Hi, I've been telling this story to a few friends recently and some of them suggested it might be a good story for the paper."

Me: "Right, okay, run me through the details."

The man on the end of the line proceeded to explain he was a local GP and had recently given life-saving mouth-to-mouth to his pet tortoise. I nearly squealed.

What an absolute gem of a story. It even made the nationals.

The second, more emotional story that sticks in my mind, is when I went to Crown Court in Exeter to cover the murder of 20-year-old Ryan King.

I knew it wasn't going to be a particularly cheery experience but I wasn't quite prepared for the harrowing details that were laid bare before the judge and jury.

I don't think I'll ever forget the moment the court was played the 999 call made after Ryan was stabbed, or when the glass used to kill him was brought out in a Perspex case for all to see.

But still, it was a story to be told.

I've now been at the Journal for six months. I can't wait for the next six and the stories that come with it.

Francesca Taffs

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ONE of the perks of the job is being able to get out and about meeting new people.

Having been chained to my desk in my previous admin role here at the Journal, I relished the thought of exploring what my patches, Torrington and Holsworthy, had to offer.

Within the first couple of months I got the chance to meet a woman I will never forget. Jessica Skinner, 18, from Torrington.

Despite being diagnosed with severe hearing loss in both ears at 5 and diplegia cerebral palsy aged 9, Jessica is determined to live life to the full.

She was born prematurely at 28 weeks at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth weighing just 1lb 8oz. She was lucky to be alive.

I met Jessica, her mum Jennifer Woodmason and stepdad David Woodmason at home on Friday, June 29, her 18th birthday.

As I sat down to talk to Jennifer I could tell this was going to be an emotional interview. She explained how she wasn't able to hold her newborn baby for 11 hours after having given birth by emergency caesarean section. Jessica was put on a ventilator and stayed in hospital for three months.Jessica told me all about the difficulties she had at school and how she hated using her wheelchair. She said she was worried other children would treat her differently. I glanced over to her mum who was starting to get teary eyed.

Jennifer explained how proud she was of her daughter and all the obstacles she had overcome. We burst into fits of laughter when she explained how Jessica used to turn her hearing aids off when she was younger so she didn't have to listen to anyone.

I could tell Jessica was excited to continue her studies at Petroc. Her eyes lit up when she told me she had enrolled in a childcare course.

Why did she choose a child care course? Because she wanted to work with disabled children to pass on her own experiences and offer help.

What struck me is how keen Jessica is to succeed. As David said: "determination and self esteem got her where she is today."

Nicole Travers-Wakeford

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Where to start. 2012 has truly been a news-filled year in North Devon in every sense particularly with national events coming to the area like the Olympic torch and the Tour of Britain.

But for me, one of the most quirky stories to cover was of a North Devon man's discovery of a message in a bottle which had travelled from Newfoundland in Canada.

It had been sent by 11-year-old Mataia a few months before.

Aiden Curtis, from Braunton, was walking on Saunton Sands when he discovered the washed up bottle with a message inside it.

He took it home where he and his partner Melanie tried to decipher the message.

They searched the address and worked out it had come from Canada.

They sent a letter back and the next thing they knew they were called up by a Canadian radio station where Mataia was on the other end of the line.

Finding out each part of the story and then tracking down Mataia and her mum and speaking to them over the phone was like putting together a puzzle and it was a really rewarding story to write.

A message in a bottle is often thought of as a myth or something that people did centuries ago, but in 2012 it was made even more exciting with technology like telephones and the internet actually connecting the sender and the receiver.

Another of my favourite stories was following the adventures of the North Devon eagle owl.

The Journal had been sent some amazing photos of the owl in Combe Martin after we had reported sightings of the bird in Northam at the beginning of the year.

People in the village couldn't believe how close the bird was to them.

In November it then appeared again in Northam but it transpired the bird was starting to concern some people living nearby.

As I was speaking to people in the street where it had been seen I discovered the owl was actually being caught at that very moment.

What ensued then caused even more problems as it was claimed the bird had been caught illegally and the police became involved.

Finally the RSPCA confirmed the owl had been handed to them and they were going through the process of trying to find a suitable home for the bird, which had became somewhat of a local celebrity.

Philippa Jenkins

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THERE are news stories aplenty about charities and fundraising events in the Journal but it has been a particular joy for me this year to report on the success of Dogs Helping Kids (DHK).

What a year it has been for this unique canine charity which has blossomed from small beginnings in North Devon to make its mark nationally, even to the point of being invited to the House of Commons for a special presentation.

It is now receiving well-deserved recognition for its groundbreaking work, sending specially trained dogs into schools and Barnstaple Library to boost children's confidence levels and achievements.

Set up by Tracey Berridge, the charity is at the centre of the Journal's Waggy Tails, Calmer Minds Appeal which, thanks to the generosity of local people, businesses and grant making bodies, has almost reached its £20,000 target.

A lot of hard work has gone into training DHK's special dogs, four of which are now in local schools and two in Barnstaple Library. And, the results have been, quite simply, astonishing.

What a difference parents and teachers have seen, not least in children's confidence, enthusiasm and motivation levels.

And like-minded people from all over the country want to emulate what DHK is doing in North Devon. There could be no better endorsement for its work and achievements.

Andrea Foster

What was your favourite North Devon story of 2012? Let us know by commenting in the box below.

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