DCSIMG

2008 - The faces behind the headlines

IN A year that has been marked by a global economic crash, the ongoing war on terror and public health crises, there have also been high points – Olympic glory and the election of America's first black president heralding new hope for the future. Now, as 2008 draws to a close, we speak to the Scots who witnessed this year's top stories.

The Olympics

Chris Hoy

IN SCOTLAND, through the humdrum deeds of our footballers, we celebrate sporting mediocrity, we bring down forests of newsprint to write about the minutiae of these people's lives, these players who we pretend are stars but whose names outwith the national borders mean next to nothing. In the grand scheme, many are no-marks – extravagantly rewarded no-marks, but no-marks all the same.

For example, one goalkeeper, until recently – when he started minding the net in the manner of Mr Magoo – was a tabloid darling with the Barbie girlfriend in tow. A few months back, Barbie was reported as saying that she and her man were the new Posh 'n' Becks. Her delusion is not her fault, it is ours. It is a byproduct of our obsession with the not-so-beautiful game, the playground of the banal. It takes Chris Hoy to remind us what sporting greatness looks like. It's not just about talent, it's about character, about leadership.

During the Olympics, David Brailsford, the British Cycling performance director, was asked about Hoy's importance to the team. "Whenever there's a wobble," he said, "(the other riders] stop, and you can see all the heads look at Chris. Like a pack of wolves, when something spooks all the wolves, they all stop and turn and look at the leader. That's Chris Hoy."

What is the great appeal about Hoy? Is it purely about victories? No, not really. It's as much to do with his personality as his triumphs, as much to do with him seemingly not changing as a person with the gold around his neck. Fame comes to a lot of sportsmen and women. The good ones roll with it but don't change. Hoy is one of the good ones, one of the very best there has ever been. Hoy wins three gold medals at the Olympics and he remains as modest as ever he was. He becomes a figure of worldwide renown and he still has time for everybody, just as he did when he had no gold medal, no profile, not even in his own land. He trumps Rebecca Adlington and Lewis Hamilton in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards and his acceptance speech is so unassuming, so respectful and, above all, so natural that he wows the room. In the vernacular, Hoy is the real deal.

There were many great moments in Beijing and many fine quotes to go with those great moments. One of the best belongs to Hoy from the day after he added gold in the individual sprint to the golds he had won in the team sprint and the keirin. He was meeting Scottish journalists, one of whom remarked that the whole world was expressing views on Hoy and so, the question went, "What does Chris Hoy think of Chris Hoy?" His reply was instant and funny and revealing "Chris Hoy thinks that the day Chris Hoy refers to Chris Hoy in the third person is the day Chris Hoy disappears up his own arse."

Today, tomorrow, next week, next month and next year, the sports press will be full of footballers who talk only when they have to, only when there is something in it for them, for their own self-glorification and little else, and yet all the time Hoy will remain visible and accessible. That is a part of why he is loved. He's an extraordinary sportsman but an ordinary human being. He is reachable in ways that footballers rarely are. It's the certainty that, no matter how much gold he ends up with, he will not "disappear up his own arse" that makes him special, makes him one of us.

Tom English in his own words

"IN A way, what has happened since Beijing, which has been a whirlwind, seems completely separate and detached from the Olympics. For the months leading up to the Games you are 100% focused on training. You're working hard, getting lots of rest, eating the right things and avoiding alcohol. You don't think about the consequences of success – in fact, you don't think about success at all. You focus on the process – all that matters is that day's training.

"In Beijing, I was competing in three events, so the challenge was to keep my focus even after winning the first one. Over the next four days, when British team-mates won gold medals, I stood with my back to the podium during the national anthem. I wasn't being disrespectful, I just didn't want to risk getting caught up in the emotion of it all.

"When I won my third gold medal, in the sprint, I was finally able to stop acting like a robot and let it all out. When I went to greet my family in the stands, I couldn't hold the emotion in any longer. But I didn't have to. It was a great release.

"Since then my life has changed completely. I've had up to three commitments a day. In some ways it has been more exhausting than training, but it has reminded me that I love living the life of an athlete. I returned to full training recently. It's great to be back doing what I love and preparing for a major event, the world championships, in Poland in March.

"And, of course, I've got London 2012 to motivate me – though the secret is not to think about more medals, but to focus on the process, and work even harder."

Economic turmoil

Alistair Darling

"The past year at the Treasury has been truly remarkable. Few could have predicted, when I became Chancellor of the Exchequer in June 2007, that this year would be so eventful.

"It saw the Treasury take Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley into temporary public ownership, my first budget statement at the House of Commons, cross-government housing and energy packages, the recapitalisation of the banking sector, and a 20bn fiscal stimulus in the autumn pre-budget report.

"But perhaps the day that best illustrates the range of issues covered, and their urgency, was in early October, when the Government announced the recapitalisation of the banks.

"The day started very early at Downing Street, where I was picked up at five in the morning. I was soon boarding a flight to Luxembourg, accompanied by officials, to attend a meeting of the EU Economic and Financial Affairs Council. All my European ministerial counterparts would be present, starting with breakfast discussion at eight.

"There was one very important issue to be covered at this meeting, which we discussed over coffee on the plane. A number of Icelandic banks were on the verge of collapse, and many EU savers had money in these banks. Principles on how to compensate them had to be agreed at the European level.

"Once in Luxembourg, the meeting proceeded according to plan. I made interventions in support of our position. News was coming back from London, however, that financial markets were under severe strain. I headed back as soon as we got the agreement we needed – in Europe, all important business takes place over breakfast.

"Once at the Treasury, around lunchtime, I first received a short update. There had been extreme market volatility that morning, with bank shares suffering particularly badly, threatening collapse. There were also a lot of rumours in financial markets, adding to the uncertainty.

"I had a meeting with Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, and Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England. Their two institutions, with the Treasury, form the UK Tripartite Authorities, in charge of financial stability. We met at Downing Street, just a few yards from the Treasury.

"We had for some time been working on a scheme to re-capitalise the banking sector. After the long series of meetings and calls, we decided that we should go ahead and implement the plan the following day.

"By that point, it was late in the afternoon. The first task at hand was to invite the chief executives of all the major UK banks to come in as soon as possible to discuss the proposals. We negotiated for quite a long while. Meanwhile, Treasury officials worked with finance experts and lawyers to get the exact wording right. By around nine in the evening, we had been through the first round of meetings with the banks, and had agreed the overall size of the package.

"On occasions like this, because Treasury catering stops serving food in the afternoon, the teams having to stay late order take-away food. My office and advisers ordered curry from a local restaurant, which made a couple of newspaper headlines at the time.

"Such a significant policy announcement required a statement in the House of Commons the following day. I spent a few hours working on the speech, which was difficult because some of technical terms are hard to explain to a general audience. My day finished in the early hours, but many others at the Treasury stayed there for longer. It was a momentous time.

"At 5am the next day, we all met again, at Downing Street, to make the final decision. And that was the start of another day full of meetings, median and the statement in Parliament."

Organ Donation

Gillian MacCormick

THE Scotland on Sunday campaign for presumed consent of organ donation gathered pace through the year, gaining support from doctors, the British Heart Foundation and Scotland's chief medical officer Dr Harry Burns, as well as members of the public.

In August, Gillian MacCormick, a mother of two who had awaited a liver transplant for two and a half years, finally got the call to say a match had been found. "I was diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC] when I was 30," says MacCormick, who comes from Livingston, West Lothian.

"The illness deteriorated gradually, then, two and a half years ago, I had really bad pneumonia. After that I was in and out of hospital every second month with constant chest infections. I couldn't get to sleep. I couldn't eat anything rich."

Despite suffering from the debilitating disease, which is thought to be caused by a malfunction in the body's immune system, MacCormick continued working full time as a training adviser. "It was quite difficult but I thought, 'What would I do if I didn't work? I'd just sit in the house and mope about and wait,' she says.

MacCormick's teenaged children are active, but she can't do any of that. "Even mundane things like going shopping on a Saturday – because I was working full time, I would have to stay at home and conserve my energy over the weekend."

Then there was the having to wait for a new kidney – never knowing when you go to your bed or when you go out if you're going to get the phone call. "I couldn't go away anywhere," she says. "My mother-in-law lives in Ayr, and even that was too far away. You had to be within a certain radius from home."

The call that would change her life eventually came on a Sunday night in August. And although she had already had one false alarm, when a potential liver turned out not to be suitable for transplant, she felt sure this time the operation would go ahead. "But when I got the call I was like, 'I don't want to go in.' It's a major operation and, though you want it, you don't want it. Things can go wrong and you have to be prepared for everything."

She was in theatre for ten hours, then further complications saw her returning to surgery twice in the same week. "I went in for the operation on the Monday and didn't come round until the Saturday," she says. "They kept me sleeping because they thought it would be too much for me to be awake and going in and out of theatre. It's like a controlled coma."

And though it has taken her several months to recover – she hopes to return to work next month – the change was almost immediate. "The difference is amazing," she says. "Straight away I noticed that my eyes are pure white, whereas before they were really jaundiced. My skin changed colour practically overnight. And I'm much more energetic. I managed to get my Christmas shopping this year, whereas before people would have just got money and a card. Slowly I'm managing to do a lot of things I couldn't do before. I am now hoping to be able to take my daughter to New York for her 16th birthday – it's things like that, being able to do family things that I wouldn't have even contemplated before, that other people take for granted."

But there is a downside to her improved health that she can't ignore. "I think about this other family, the family that donated, and it's quite sad," she says. "Although we're celebrating, someone else is going to be missing an important part of their family. That's one of the hardest things to overcome." But MacCormick's commitment to the campaign for presumed consent remains as strong as ever. "It's a very important issue and shouldn't be dismissed," she says. "I know people who have passed away, but if this had been in place these people might still be here today."

US Election

Alison Duncan

THE morning of November 4, 2008, was just like any other in Washington DC – except for one noticeable difference. The world was about to witness history in the making. Because on that day a 47-year-old from Chicago was elected America's first black president. "It has been a long time coming," said Barack Obama in his victory speech, "but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America." And for those living in Washington through his record-breaking campaign, there could have been little doubt that this was true.

Alison Duncan, born and raised in Dundee and Perthshire, has lived in the US capital for nearly 30 years. A legal representative for the SNP for ten years, until 2007, she is now CEO of the Scotland Foundation, a charity that matches charitable projects in Scotland to those in the US.

"Other than a bite in the air that hinted of winter, November 4 was a day was just like the one before it (which, by the way, was my birthday, a momentous occasion that managed to get ignored by everyone caught up one way or the other in the excitement of the campaign)."

But it was shaping up to be anything but an ordinary day. For a start, there were more helicopters than planes in the sky – "Usually a tell-tale sign of major activity at the White House or the Pentagon" – and most of the commuters on the metro seemed to have ditched their power suits in favour of 'business casual'.

"Gone also was the usual Tuesday-morning eagerness, the omnipresent shuffling of laptops to prevent prying eyes," she says. "Instead, we broke the cardinal rule of the commuter and talked to each other, and we counted the nature and number of 'I VOTED!!!' badges and stickers.

"In the main, we talked mechanics, not about the implications of the historic turnout. People waiting from 3.30am forward? Was it true that 70% of eligible voters had already voted by noon? But it was not what we said, it was the warm sense of community and optimism that stays with me still." In the months running up to the election, political loyalties touched every aspect of life in Washington, from work and friendships to neighbours and schools. "It affected client decision-making and strategy, it determined seating arrangements and sleep-overs, even colour-coordination and dating," laughs Duncan. "Thanks to the wonderful world of the web and the ways of Washington, we all seemed to be only one degree of separation removed from the fray."

Duncan lives in what she calls "a typical neighbourhood", although Washington is reputed to have more PHDs per capita than any other region in the country (she is proud to admit that she is not one of that esteemed clique). "A number of residents consider themselves the cognoscenti of the capital and, in fairness, they should. Some past and present cabinet members live here, as well as Republican pundits like George W, Robert Bauer (Obama's general counsel), Bob Schrum (a long-term Democratic lobbyist), Bob Woodward (editor of the Washington Post) and Paul Wolfowitz (deputy secretary of defence under Donald Rumsfeld).

Tellingly, and many months before Hillary Clinton pulled out, every second house had an Obama sign in the front garden and/or on their cars. For those Washington insiders, the election was a foregone conclusion."

And so, on the morning of the election, they turned out in their droves for Obama.He won 86% of the DC vote, while in nearby Maryland it was 62%. "In Virginia, Obama edged out McCain by over 6%, the first time in 44 years that Virginia went Democrat. While it wasn't an earthquake, the earth moved."

In this city of half a million people, plus an even greater floating population of commuters, politics is embedded in the culture. "It's a city of idealists and realists, of those who dream and those who do," says Duncan. "And now, as someone said on the metro that day, perhaps the country has elected someone who can do both."

Mumbai Attacks

Sara Wood

ON NOVEMBER 26, armed militants staged a 60-hour siege on high-profile locations in Mumbai, holding scores of Westerners hostage and killing more than 170 people. Two luxury hotels – the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi Trident – were specifically targeted, along with restaurants, the Jewish cultural centre and the main commuter train station, all in the south of the city, India's financial capital.

Nine of the young gunmen – all thought to have political connections with Pakistan – were eventually killed and another was arrested, but the shockwaves continue to be felt. This month, India announced a wide-ranging security overhaul to strengthen its borders against future terrorist attacks.

Sara Wood travelled to Mumbai on November 25 as part of a three-strong group from Perth College on a two-week visit establishing business links with partners in the country. "We were staying in the Marriot, in the north of the city. And because we had flown over night," she says, "we went to bed reasonably early. I think it was late evening – probably about 11pm – when someone phoned me from the UK to tell me what was happening."

She immediately turned on the television, to be faced with news reports about the terrible events that were unfolding not far away. "We were uncertain and, of course, nobody really knew what it was all about. At the beginning, people felt it was something quite small-scale, and it was only as things moved on that it became apparent that it was very serious and that clearly Westerners were being targeted."

The news channels kept them informed about the escalating violence, and at one stage they feared the militants had moved much closer. "It did come on CNN news that there were gunmen in our hotel," says Wood, "but very quickly they said that was misinformation. But that added to our sense that potentially we could be a target."

Although the group had meetings planned in Mumbai, the city effectively shut down as soon as the siege erupted, and the group was forced to cut the visit short. "Clearly we needed to leave the city," she says. By the following morning, they had managed to rearrange their flights. "From the airport to the hotel the previous morning, it had taken us around an hour. When we travelled back it took only about 20 minutes. Everybody was staying at home," says Wood. "Things were still going on, and we felt very much for the people who were trapped in their hotels,

"There was a lot of coverage in India: when we were sitting in the hotel or in the airport it was constant television, so people were very aware of the events in the city and the severity of it. Everybody felt quite nervous."

Despite her experiences, however, Wood would have no hesitation in returning to India. "They have always been fabulous," she says. "It was our Indian contacts and partners that really looked after us. Then, when we got to the new places, changed all our meetings and arrangements, they did everything they could to help us.

"We have established good relationships there, and in a sense this has fomented that."

C diff outbreak

Michelle Stewart

MICHELLE STEWART'S mother-in-law, Sarah McGinty, was 67 when she died. She was one of 18 patients for whom the recent Clostridium difficile (C diff) outbreak at Vale of Leven Hospital proved fatal.

"She went into hospital after a stroke before Christmas, but was about to come home when she contracted C diff. A week later, on February 1, she died," says the 34-year-old from Alexandria, who has five children with Sarah's son Charles.

"There could be another outbreak tomorrow, and more people will die," she says.

In total, 55 patients at the West Dunbartonshire hospital were infected, but Scotland's leading epidemiologist, Professor Hugh Pennington, believes the death toll may have been seriously underestimated. Failings highlighted by the families include being given loved ones' soiled laundry, which was infected with deadly C diff spores, to take home, and commodes being shared among infected patients.

"We know it was C diff because we were told," says Stewart, "and it's on her death certificate. But at the time we didn't think it was serious because nothing changed about the way she was being treated."

Stewart is secretary of the families' justice group, which – backed by opposition MPs – is calling for a public enquiry. "In June, we read about the calls for an enquiry and spoke to our local paper. They contacted the health board, who said it was a different strain. But that's a cop-out; all strains are fatal," she says.

"Next we were on TV and radio, and we started getting in touch with other families who had similar stories. We thought, 'We just can't let this go.'

"We are looking for answers about what went wrong and for lessons to be learnt so that no one finds themselves in the same position as us."

This Christmas, Sarah will be missed by her three children and 12 grandchildren. "She also had a great-grandchild on the way that she won't ever see. Last year, we went to the hospital to see her but the weans weren't allowed in. This year, she's not there for anyone."

Stewart and her family feel the loss all the more because they regard it as an unnecessary death. "We all lose people, but when you lose somebody needlessly and know how they could still be here, it makes it much harder," she says. "If we can save one life the campaign would be worthwhile because one family would still have their loved one here. We can't bring our loved ones back but we can stop other people losing theirs."

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon has said there would be a risk of prejudice to criminal proceedings if a public inquiry was ordered, and that the police inquiry must run its course. "We don't care about the police enquiry because we are not looking for criminal proceedings, someone to blame or reprisals and heads to roll. We just want lessons to be learnt, which is why we want the public inquiry.

War in Afchanistan

Nick Wheelan

WITH the Taliban insurgency in the south of Afghanistan showing no sign of abating, 12 British service personnel have been killed between the beginning of November and the middle of this month. The deaths on December 13 of four Royal Marines, three of them Arbroath-based, took the total number killed in the country to 133 – more than 40 of them this year.

Private Nicholas Wheelan, a 19-year-old from Falkirk, considers himself very lucky not to have joined that roll call of fatalities after being blown up while on patrol with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (5Scots) in Garmsir District, Helmand Province. He was the victim of a pressure-plate explosive device planted by Taliban insurgents, designed to explode when stood on. "I didn't know what had happened," he says. "I was lying on the ground and there was dust everywhere. There was dust in my mouth and a horrible taste of gunpowder. It was like sticking your head in a bowl of gunpowder with your mouth open. There was ringing in my ears and I was confused, shocked… Then the boys grabbed me."

The "boys" were Sergeant Kevin Pedder, from Stirling, and Nick's colleagues in 5Scots. "We did a casevac (casualty evacuation) with him," says Pedder. "Your training kicks in, the adrenalin pumps and it's about getting the guys motivated to go in and get him quickly. It was about teamwork, getting him back to the vehicle and then the medical centre, fast."

Wheelan adds, "About four guys came and got me. I was thinking the worst, but they were reassuring me, telling me I'm going to be all right. If I didn't have the boys with me, saying what they were saying, I would have been in bits."

Back at the medical centre, Wheelan's injuries were revealed to be extensive shrapnel wounds to his lower left leg and peppering his right leg, and one of his fingers was damaged. After being flown back to a hospital near Birmingham, he was given extensive skin grafts because there was such a lot of flesh missing.

"When they said I had compartment syndrome and cut from my ankle up to the knee to relieve the pressure, I thought, 'Oh shit!' I didn't know what was going to happen. My mind was all over the place and I was worried about my leg." Compartment syndrome results from increased pressure stopping the blood supply, and without prompt treatment can lead to nerve-damage and muscle-death.

However, Wheelan is now almost back to full duty. He considers himself fortunate to have survived the explosion, which occurred in the area of Afghanistan where Prince Harry spent time earlier this year. "I can look at it that I was unlucky," he says, "but it could have been a lot worse, so I prefer to think I was lucky."

Now Canterbury-based, Wheelan plans to spend his four weeks of Christmas leave at home in Falkirk with his family, who are supportive of his choice of a military life, despite being all too aware of the risks. "When I was injured my mum was shocked and upset, but if I'm okay, she's okay. A couple of my grandad's brothers were in the army, and my dad pushed for me to join, but it was my choice. I have no regrets. I've done a lot of stuff that other people haven't done.

"People at home who criticise, that's their opinion, and everybody's entitled to that, but they should be aware of what we're doing and the dangers out there."

Pedder, a 29-year-old father of three, agrees. "We are out there providing security for people. The insurgents are attacking their own country, and we are there for a good reason. The locals are glad to see us. At first there were no civilians in Garmsir – it was all Taliban – but after a few months it was great to see the locals coming back. They were grateful that we were there, providing security to let the children go back to school."

Music

James Allan, Glasvegas

"EH, 2008," ponders James Allan doubtfully, as if he had just been asked for his thoughts on some obscure historical period. The 28-year-old Glasvegas front man is talking as he travels between Dublin and Belfast as part of a tour that has been going on for most of the year – the crowds getting bigger and more fervent with each passing month.

"Things have changed such a lot in such a short time, and it has been quite triumphant," he continues. "I feel we've moved mountains artistically. But it has been psychedelic and blurry and dizzying too. To be honest, I've been clinging on to sanity."

Most years, one Scottish act breaks through to the mainstream. But compared with KT Tunstall and Snow Patrol, Glasvegas are unlikely hit-makers. Their music combines rock fuzz with easy-listening melody – My Bloody Valentine meets 'My Funny Valentine' – and lyrically their singles stand out: 'Daddy's Gone' – an epic tear-jerker about an absent father; 'Geraldine' – the best ever pop song about the love of an addiction counsellor for her client.

Yet, despite a sound that's all rough edges and a gallus greaser look that's all edgy roughness, Glasvegas's eponymous debut album charted at number two. "I'm a daydreamer," says Allan, "and everything that's happening with our band is the way I always dreamt it. We're lucky. Things don't always work out the way you dream them – otherwise I'd be playing for Celtic."

Having performed brilliant sets at the Connect festival, Glasgow Barrowlands and T in the Park – "I could feel the stage shaking" – Glasvegas have established themselves in 2008 as an exciting live act. Their concerts are an odd mixture of impassioned vulnerability (open weeping during singalongs to 'Daddy's Gone') and aggression.

Street violence is a key subject for James Allan; his songbook includes 'Stabbed', 'Flowers & Football Tops' (inspired by the response to the murder of Kriss Donald) and 'Go Square Go'. Knife crime has been a national concern this year, and though Allan is aware his writing has chimed with that anxiety, he insists it is no deliberate effort. "Sometimes I listen to my songs and don't know what state of mind I was in when I wrote them."

He is more conscious that while there has been intense media focus on poverty and ill health in the East End of Glasgow, his band – from Dalmarnock – represents a more positive and hopeful side of life in the area. "In the East End, the options for creativity and expressing yourself are narrow," he says. "People only get a little snapshot of the possibilities of how they can live, and are not exposed to many alternatives. So when a band like us come along, it's always going to be quite striking."

Allan knows his story is inspiring. "Before I found a record deal, I was on the dole, and yet I was spending time with Elvis Presley's daughter." Lisa Marie Presley met up with the band in Edinburgh after falling for an online demo. "That alone shows how things can get out into the world. If it's good art, and it has a purpose and a little bit of heart and soul, then it can fly."

He was still out of work in January this year, but now, 11 months later, he's a pop star who records in New York and Transylvania, and the most acclaimed new lyricist in the country.

Yet he is not complacent. Writing is still quite new to him (for years, football was his passion), and it can be a struggle to get the contents of his head down on the page, so he veers between the euphoria of creation and the dysphoria of self-doubt. "It's either blue skies and angels," he says, "or the black gutter."

What's more, when asked what has been the highlight of 2008, his reply leaves no doubt that riding in stretch limos and hanging out with the stars have only limited appeal. "Just spending time with my mum is the best thing I did all year, and it's the best thing I do every year," he says.eak on the failure of hospital surveillance systems. "They should flag up when people get hospital-acquired infections. Sufferers should be isolated and wards shut. People were still being admitted, and C diff was allowed to run rampant through the hospital."

ecause so many Scottish people are terrified of hospital-acquired infections. They have lost trust in the NHS. We want to get that back, and we're not going to stop and we're not going to go away.

"People shouldn't go into hospital and die. They should be cured and come home."

2008 in brief

JANUARY

• The Scottish Football Association appoints George Burley as the new Scotland manager.

• Hundreds die in tribal violence during Kenyan elections, leading to a coalition government after negotiations by the UN's Kofi Annan.

FEBRUARY

• Eighty-one-year old Fidel Castro (inset) resigns as president of Cuba after 49 years, handing over power to his brother Raul.

• Kosova declares independence from Serbia, a move greeted with euphoria by ethnic Alabanians and fury in Belgrade, where the US Embassy comes under attack.

• Prince Harry is withdrawn from Afghanistan after a US website blows his cover. He had been on active service in Helmand Province for over ten weeks.

MARCH

• China begins a violent crackdown on protests by monks in Tibet.

• Heather Mills is awarded 24.3m in a divorce settlement from former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney.

APRIL

• The Olympic torch relay draws protests in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. The 137,000 'Journey of Harmony' led to more than 50 arrests and the torch being extinguished three times in Paris alone

• Elizabeth Fritzl, a 42-year-old Austrian woman, tells police she had been sexually abused, raped and physically assaulted by her father, Josef Fritzl, since 1977 and had been imprisoned by him for 24 years, bearing him seven children. The case is expected to go to trial in March.

• A 9,550-year-old 'Christmas tree', the planet's oldest living plant, is discovered on a Swedish mountain.

• Four hundred children are seized from a polygamy sect in Texas after claims of abuse.

MAY

• Tory MP Boris Johnson (below) is elected mayor of London, defeating Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone.

• China's worst earthquake for 30 years kills thousands when it strikes in Sichuan province.

• The California Supreme Court overturns a ban on gay marriage.

JUNE

• Wendy Alexander resigns as Labour's Scottish leader after being found guilty of breaking parliamentary rules on donations to her leadership campaign.

• A man gives birth for the first time as Thomas Beatie, a trans-gendered man, has a healthy, 9lb 5oz baby girl.

• Robert Mugabe 'wins' re-election in a controversial Zimbabwe vote that saw 2,000 opposition supporters jailed and more than 10,000 injured in widespread violence.

JULY

• French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt (right) and 14 other hostages are freed in Colombia, after six years in captivity.

• Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic is arrested after a 13-year manhunt. He had been living in Belgrade, earning a living as an alternative therapist.

• Leaders of the world's richest nations agree to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

• The SNP's John Mason wins a surprise victory in the Glasgow East by-election, despite Labour's Margaret Curran being tipped to win.

AUGUST

• Britain finishes fourth in the medals table at the Olympic Games, in Beijing – behind China, the US and Russia – with a total of 47. Flying Scotsman Chris Hoy sprints home with three golds for cycling. Steven Spielberg may have withdrawn from directing the opening ceremony, but a worldwide audience of over four billion people watch the spectacle

• President Musharraf is forced to resign after suffering a massive defeat in the Pakistani elections.

• Violence breaks out in the South Ossetia breakaway region of Georgia, involving Russian, Georgian and South Ossetian forces.

• Jade Goody learns she has cervical cancer while appearing on India's Big Brother.

SEPTEMBER

• The end of the world is feared as the Large Hadron Collider begins recreating post-big-bang conditions. Then stops. A fault puts it out of action until summer 2009.

• Scotland announces it is to build the world's first wind farms under the sea.

• The Paralympic Games opens in Beijing (right).

• Toxic baby milk kills six children in China, while 290,000 others suffer urinary system abnormalities after drinking formula contaminated with melamine.

OCTOBER

• Recession is unavoidable as the British economy slides into decline for the first time in 16 years.

• Madonna and Guy Ritchie announce they are to divorce.

• Snowfall is detected on Mars.

• Somalian pirates hijack a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and ammunition, holding the crew hostage and demanding a ransom of 20m (13.5m).

NOVEMBER

• Democrat senator Barack Obama is elected the first black US president, with a record turnout of voters.

• 173 people are killed and 308 injured in terror attacks in Mumbai by members of Lashkar-e-Toiba, a militant organisation based in Pakistan.

• Labour defies the odds to win the Glenrothes by-election as Lindsay Roy holds off the SNP threat.

• African leaders and UN officials hold an emergency meeting after fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo escalates.

• Two men and the mother of 17-month-old Baby P (inset), from Haringey, London, are convicted of causing or allowing his death.

DECEMBER

• Chris Hoy is named BBC Sports Personality of the Year, beating racing driver Lewis Hamilton into second place and swimmer Rebecca Addlinglton into third place.

• Scottish Government ministers give the formal go-ahead to Donald Trump (below) for a 1bn golf resort on the Menie estate.

• The death toll for Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak reaches almost 1,000, according to the UN, increasing pressure on president Robert Mugabe to resign.

• Sean Mercer, an 18-year-old gang member, is convicted of murder and ordered to serve a minimum of 22 years for shooting Rhys Jones, an 11-year-old schoolboy from Croxteth, Liverpool, on his way home from football practice last year.

 
 
 

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