Calls for better riverside safety as inquest hears death of Sope Peters was accidental

County Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle has called for better riverside safety after an inquest last week heard that the death of Sope Peters was accidental.

Sope

Sope, who studied Economics at Hatfield College, fell into the River Wear shortly after midnight on Tuesday 29th October 2013.

The body of the 20-year-old was discovered five weeks later by emergency services and a post-mortem examination revealed the cause of death to be drowning.

Speaking at the inquest at Crook Civic Centre, Detective Sergeant Stephen Smythe said that Peters was last seen in CCTV footage outside Osborne’s bar and then heading down a set of steep stairs from Elvet Bridge.

DS Smythe said: ’It is almost certain he stumbled down those steps and entered the Wear over the low wall at the bottom of them.

‘I have tried to negotiate those steps and it is difficult even when sober. The lighting is poor and there is no hand rail.’

DS Smythe said that Sope was over the legal driving limit for alcohol but no drugs were found in his system.

Coroner Tweddle said that he would be writing to Durham County Council in a bid to improve the safety of the steps, which he described as ‘difficult and dangerous’.

‘It may be a small comfort to the family knowing that someone is hopefully going to have a look at the situation,’ he said.

Sope’s uncle Lanre Peters said: ‘He was an absolutely fantastic guy with a promising future ahead of him, which has just been tragically cut short.’

Dr Anthony Bash, Acting Principal at Hatfield, said ‘Members of Hatfield College were deeply saddened by the death of Sope Peters. He was a popular student who is greatly missed.

‘We marked Sope’s passing with a memorial event to celebrate his life.

‘In order to recognise the hard work of the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team that helped the Police to search for Sope, the students at Hatfield College have raised about £1,000 for the charity.’

Photograph: Sope Peters

Published in Palatinate Online, Durham’s Official Student Newspaper – http://www.palatinate.org.uk/?p=47286 – 14th April 2014

Durham MCC cricketer stars in World Cricket League triumph

Durham MCC all-rounder Ben Stevens won the Player of the Tournament award and inspired Jersey to victory in World Cricket League Division 5 in Malaysia this week.

Image

Stevens, who studies Spanish at St. Aidan’s College and is currently on a year-abroad in Argentina, was the top-run scorer in the tournament, making 403 runs at an average of 67.17.

His highest score of 84 came in the final against Malaysia, where he shared in a match-winning 152-run stand with ex-Durham MCC cricketer Nathaniel Watkins (116), leading Jersey to a 71-run win.

Image

The left-arm spinner also picked up 13 wickets in Kuala Lumpur at an average of 15.08.

Stevens’ performances across the week helped Jersey to win all of their games, seeing off hosts Malaysia, Tanzania, the Cayman Islands, Nigeria and local rivals Guernsey to secure promotion to Division 4.

Jersey, who’s squad also includes Durham graduate Ed Farley, now travel to Singapore for World Cricket League Division 4 in June.

Image

Speaking after the final, Stevens said, ‘It’s been an unbelievable ride and it feels incredible now to know that our hard work has given us a trip to Singapore.

‘We knew we had it in us to win the tournament so we’re happy we’ve been able to do that.’

Reflecting on the best moments of the week, Stevens said, ‘From a cricketing perspective, Nat’s century to win against the home favourites in the final was pretty special. There was also the win against the Cayman Islands that secured our promotion.

‘Personally, I’m obviously very happy to have got runs and wickets in the tournament, and it’s nice to know you’ve done your bit for promotion. Conversely, it’s not so nice to know I’m completely incapable of scoring a century.’

Stevens also won the Player of the Tournament award when Jersey were promoted from World Cricket League Division 6 last summer, making it two in two for the Durham all-rounder.

Photographs: CricketEurope, ICC

John Bercow addresses the Durham Union Society

John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons, gave a rousing address at the Durham Union Society in the first week of Michaelmas term.

Image

In front of a packed Debating Chamber with the bells of Durham Cathedral ringing outside, Mr Bercow spoke passionately about his work as Speaker and the importance of the institution of Parliament, displaying an eloquence and oratorical flair befitting of his title.

Mixing amusing anecdotes with a comprehensive discussion of his job, the Speaker likened his role in the House to that of a “referee in a football match, or, perhaps more fittingly, the headteacher of a school.”

He spoke of his efforts to create a “culture change” in Parliament and to make sure that it “best works for the benefit of the British people”, achieved through measures such as improving the conduct of Prime Minister’s Questions and giving greater parliamentary time to backbench business.

On the frequently questioned issue of his relationship with his constituents, Mr Bercow drew a parallel with Government Ministers, saying that he could not speak in the House on their behalf but he still maintained correspondences with them and addressed their concerns.

In addition to his discussions of Parliament, the Speaker drew frequent laughs from the audience with a selection of excellent impressions of famous politicians, ranging from a spot-on William Hague to an aptly haughty and powerful Margaret Thatcher.

The address was then followed by a lively question and answer session, with students present doing their utmost to draw the Speaker into commenting upon party political issues.

Robert, from Hatfield College, asked Mr Bercow which party he thought was the worst behaved in Parliament.

Responding even-handedly, the Speaker said that all the parties were as bad as each other but that female MPs were certainly the best behaved.

Dermot, from University College, questioned Mr Bercow on whether he thought he would be calling more UKIP MPs to speak in the House after the next general election.

The Speaker commended the ingenuity of the question but responded frankly and said that he did not.

On the question of the media, the Speaker admitted that he took very little notice of what was written about him in the papers, but that he enjoyed reading parliamentary sketches.

Mr Bercow also spoke combatively in defence of his wife, Sally, acknowledging that she was a controversial figure in the Tory press but he said that she had every right to express her own views.

The Speaker was thanked with rapturous applause at the end of his speech and signed autographs for attendees.

Labour’s new generation

Meet Thomas Nearney and Katie Corrigan, the fresh faces of the Labour Party in Durham.

Image

Elected to the County Council in May earlier this year, they are Durham’s youngest political representatives and are already hard at work serving the local community.

Fresh from meetings at County Hall that day, we sit together drinking coffee in Chapters Tearoom as glorious autumnal sunshine bathes Elvet Bridge outside.

We chat about politics and Thomas, who went to St Bede’s School in Lanchester and is now entering his 2nd year studying Law at St Mary’s College, starts animatedly on his work as a councillor in his ward, Annfield Plain.

‘You never find yourself doing the same job twice,’ he says grinning, ‘which has its benefits and its drawbacks.

‘It is so varied but sometimes you have so many issues to deal with that you have to learn to delegate. It’s a skill you have to learn quickly.’

Katie, who studied at St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham and has just finished a degree in Sociology and Politics at Sunderland University, represents the Belmont ward and nods in agreement.

‘The work can be about anything,’ she says, ‘ranging from pavements to potholes. There are lots of individual issues to deal with and each day can be completely different.’

But what inspired them to go into politics in the first place? And why Labour? Katie needs no time to think. ‘I’m Labour because my family has always been Labour.

‘My father was a miner so obviously I come from a strong Labour background. I’ve always been interested in politics and I wanted to get more involved in the community.’

Thomas takes up the theme. ‘For me, my values are Labour values. I believe wholeheartedly in people working together and in fairness.

‘Once you step out of Durham City, which is a lovely place, there are some really tough areas that need help and need work to get better. ‘

He also speaks passionately about the educational opportunities he feels he received as a result of his party’s work. ‘To be honest,’ he confides, ‘I’m the first person in my family to go to university.’ Katie nods too.

‘I feel like if it hadn’t been for a Labour government investing in my school, a good school in the past but one that you could feel was improving because of the investment, then that wouldn’t have happened.’

Working for Durham County Council puts Thomas and Katie at the heart of an organisation that has annual revenues of over £1 billion and employs around 18,500 people.

Yet they have come into power at a difficult financial time for the Council, a reality Thomas sees every day in his work.

‘The financial pressures we’re under now are enormous,’ he explains. ‘£200 million is being cut from the budget by 2015 due to the reduction in funding from central government.

‘‘This is the one big downside of our work. It’s fantastic to be able to make a difference in your community, but we also have to make savings whilst fulfilling our statutory duties.

‘When you’re looking at whether or not a vulnerable woman can have a home care service, that’s not nice. That’s not what I came into government to do.’

Despite the difficult decisions they need to make, Thomas says he can still take heart from the actions of the Labour Party in County Durham.

‘We still manage to pay a living wage to all our employees and we have no zero hour contracts. Although we don’t have much money, we’re trying to set an example of how things should be done.’

Our conversation turns to Labour on the national stage. What do they think of Ed Miliband? Katie’s response is qualified. ‘I think he’s good, but I think he could do with some work.’

‘I think he could be stronger in terms of how he presents himself. The public want to hear a strong voice and know that they’ve got someone who’s going to represent them.’

Locally, Labour will have control of the Council until 2017, but there’s certainly no mood of complacency in the party ranks.

Katie and Thomas already have their eyes set on campaigning for the elections to the European Parliament next year and the general election in 2015.

‘Sometimes in the North-East people think,“It’s a Labour safe seat, there’s no point in campaigning there”, but I don’t think we take anything for granted,’ Thomas says.

‘In 2010 the Liberal Democrats came close in Durham City,’ Katie adds, ‘and were only a couple of thousand votes behind the Labour candidate, so everyone was quite worried. We’ll start campaigning for the general election soon.’

Such campaigning will look to draw upon the energies of young people in Durham City. How politically engaged are the youth in this region?

Katie is optimistic. ‘I think Durham has got good youth participation. I’m involved with County Durham Labour and we campaign everywhere.

‘Durham University also has its own Labour club that is doing well. They’ve done a lot of work for the living wage.’

With politics clearly in the blood, my final question is about long-term plans. Is this the career for them?

The answers are mixed. ‘I don’t want to be a councillor forever,’ Katie admits, ‘and I think I’d like to work in Social Research.’

Thomas is different. ‘Up until 2017, because the people have put their faith in me, I’m obviously sticking with the council. I’ve got to work for them. They’re the people that matter.’

‘But long-term, who knows? I’ve got to get the law degree out of the way, maybe train as a barrister, and then I’m always going to have an interest in politics. Whether I pursue that as an MP or stay with the Council, I don’t know.’

Whatever they choose to do, Councillors Corrigan and Nearney clearly have bright political futures ahead of them and the constituents of County Durham are in safe hands. Watch this space.

Local hospices celebrate funding boost

Two local hospices are celebrating receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds of extra government funding.

Staff and volunteers at St Cuthbert's hospice celebrate

St Cuthbert’s Hospice, based in Merryoaks, and Willow Burn Hospice, based in Lanchester, have each been granted around £300,000 by the Department of Health to improve their facilities for patients.

Paul Marriott, Chief Executive of St Cuthbert’s Hospice, says that they plan to use their allocation of £282,369 to refurbish in-patient rooms and improve patient travel to the hospice.

He said: “This grant is absolutely fantastic news in our 25th year, and will enable us to make great improvements which will benefit both patients and their families here at St Cuthbert’s.

“This grant means that the money we raise locally, which we rely on, can continue to go towards providing the services needed by our community.”

Willow Burn Hospice, which opened in 1989, is planning to use its allocation of £356,438 to start on building a more modern facility which will eventually replace the existing hospice.

The Minister for Care and Support, Norman Lamb, announced the grants as part of £60 million of funding for improving hospices across England. In total ten North East hospices will benefit from £3 million of funds.

Mr Lamb said: “These funds will help hospices across the North East provide dignified, compassionate, high quality care and support to people and their families at what is a difficult time in their lives.”

Real tapas in Durham? You better believe it…

After a sun-kissed month in Madrid this summer delighting in the delicacies of Iberian cuisine, it was with a heavy heart that I returned to the grey North-East and the prospect of student cooking and bog standard English fare.

madrid2Indeed, I was only two mouthfuls through a plate of own-brand beans on soggy toast and already I was pining again for the tastes of Spain.

Paella, gazpacho, jamon serrano… such treats seemed all so distant now as I looked bleakly at my cupboard full of Tesco value tins and Uncle Ben’s rice. I’d try my best to recreate a little bit of Spanish magic at home – an ill-fated tortila de patatas being my first and only attempt – but alas my cooking skills proved woefully inadequate.

What to do? How to banish my withdrawal symptoms and satisfy that craving for one more experience of la cocina española? Fortunately I was in luck.

As all Durham foodies will know, nestled on the high street between Market Square and the Cathedral is La Tasca, a tapas bar that offers all the signature dishes of the Iberian Peninsula. It was here that I found hope of getting that one last fix of Spanish cuisine before resigning myself to an inevitable fate of Michaelmas microwave meals and bland pasta dishes.

But walking through the doors of La Tasca I still had my doubts. Would it be a disappointment? Could you really find a real taste of Spain in the heart of Durham? Or would it be a pale imitation of the real thing?

I needn’t have worried. The tapas at La Tasca were excellent, a mix of bold flavours and Spanish flair wonderfully washed down with a caraf of ice-cold sweet sangria. Better still, the portion sizes were slightly larger than the tapas you might find in Madrid (who said the English couldn’t do something right?) and hence it was great value for money.

If you ever get the chance to go to La Tasca then here’s a list of my top recommended tapas, complete with a bit of cultural background that you can use to pass yourself off as a connoisseur of all things Iberian.

la-tasca-durham-1-500x333Paella – this is a world-famous classic of Spanish cuisine and should be your starting point if you’re new to tapas. Be it cooked with seafood, meat or a mixture of both, paella is a delightful dish of saffron sticky rice and vegetables.

It’s traditionally cooked in great big dishes and for many Spaniards is the staple of a lazy Sunday lunch with the family. It can also be a source of fierce regional pride; ask a Valencian and they’ll tell you that real paella can only be found in their region, where the qualities of the water are said to give it its distinctive flavour. Indeed, I’ve been fortunate enough to try paella in Valencia and they have a point!

But to the uninitiated this shouldn’t be a worry. Paella is awesome full stop and it’d be a culinary crime not to give it a try.

Croquetas – you’ll find these in lots of different cultures but the Spaniards do particularly mean croquetas as a tapas dish. They’re little fried breadcrumbed rolls usually filled with potato, ham or cheese. The best croquetas will simply melt in your mouth and are unfailingly moreish.

A word of warning though – they may be small but they’re deceptively filling so be sure to savour every bite!

Calamares – don’t be fooled by their ‘onion ring’ style appearance, calamares are in fact fried squid in batter and are another hot favourite on the tapas scene. When in Madrid I got some envious looks on the underground as I tucked into a baguette filled with calamares. And who could blame them? Try calamares with a dash of lemon and they’re a treat.

Gazpacho – perhaps not best appreciated in Durham, gazpacho is a refreshing tomato-based soup-style dish widely popular in Spain. The locals usually have it chilled to cool off after a day in the sun. Of course you won’t get these benefits in the North East but it’s still tasty all the same and full of vitamins.

Tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) – good, wholesome, simple: tortilla de patatas embodies the best of no-frills Spanish cuisine and a tapas outing would be incomplete without it. It’s essentially a large omelette made with potatoes and onion, fried in olive oil. You can have it hot or cold and it goes great with gazpacho or salad.

Churros – strictly speaking these don’t count as tapas but I just couldn’t leave them out. Churros are rings of fried, crunchy pastry that you dip in thick hot chocolate and to a sweet-toothed simpleton like myself they’re irresistible. They’re particularly popular amongst club-goers in Madrid as a post night-out snack, the Spanish answer to the kebab if you will. More conventionally though you’ll see people eating them in cafes in the morning before work. La Tasca offers churros as a dessert and they’re a perfect way to round off a taste of Spain in Durham.

¡Buen provecho!

Published in The Bubble, Durham’s Online Magazine, 1st November 2012 – http://www.thebubble.org.uk/food/real-tapas-in-durham-you-better-believe-it