REVIEW OF THE YEAR: What made the headlines in January - March

Witney Gazette: Didcot dog breeders Heather Simper and Liz Scoates Didcot dog breeders Heather Simper and Liz Scoates

JANUARY.

A heart-warming start to the year concerned Didcot dog breeders Heather Simper and Liz Scoates, left, who had five Tibetan spaniels stolen from their kennels.

An internet appeal for help, a musical appeal on YouTube, and a Tweet from Jonathan Ross sent out to more than a million people resulted in a glorious reunion.

The dogs, stolen from kennels in Reading Road, Upton, near Didcot, just after Christmas, were eventually recovered, with eight-month-old Alice the last to be traced.

One of the more bizarre stories at the start of the year involved football manager Harry Redknapp, who said in court he lost £250,000 in a bid to save his friend’s management job at Oxford United.

In interviews played out at Southwark Crown Court, the then-Tottenham Hotspur manager said he had been approached regarding an American takeover bid at the U’s, suggesting the money could help keep ex-boss Jim Smith in a job.

Mr Redknapp was acquitted of all tax evasion charges at Southwick Crown Court. A recurring theme throughout the year was one of metal thefts.

Some 350 homes and businesses in North Oxfordshire were cut off from phone and internet services after thieves stole more than 1km of copper cabling from BT’s Steeple Aston exchange near the end of January.

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It led to calls for tougher punishments from villagers and politicians, and later in the year a new law was passed tightening regulation.

FEBRUARY.

The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton dropped into Oxford in February to visit Rose Hll Primary School, above, and the Art Room at Oxford Spires Academy, which uses art therapy to build the confidence of vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

The Duchess is a patron of the charity, and in honour of her visit she was given a ‘Miss Catherine’ apron.

Pupils also spattered her in paint.

It seems ridiculous given how the year ended, but in February the Government announced the south was in drought and the county had suffered its lowest rainfall in 11 years.

Water bosses said Oxfordshire needed a downpour every day for six weeks to avoid hosepipe bans, which was later imposed.

Billed as “God versus man” the world, or Oxford at least, was enthralled as the world’s most famous atheist Richard Dawkins went head to head with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury at a debate.

The Sheldonian Theatre was packed out as the pair spent an hour-and-a-half discussing the nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin as some 1,000 people looked on.

Oxford’s Rose Hill estate marked the next step in its history as the last family moved into its new £20m development.

The four-year project replaced 117 crumbling homes with 254 new ones.

MARCH.

Operation Bullfinch, a sweeping multi-million pound criminal investigation, was launched when police raided 14 addresses in Oxford hoping to try to crack a suspected organised child exploitation gang.

The explosive case saw more arrests throughout the year and as of December nine men were due to stand trial in the Old Bailey in January.

Tantalising treats and delectable desserts were on show in the Oxfordshire Bake-Off.

The annual charity baking competition, inspired by BBC2 hit show The Great British Bake-Off, was in aid of Oxfam, breast cancer charity CoppaFeel and the Oxford Rape Crisis Centre.

Oxfordshire did not escape the fuel crisis which swept over the country in March.

Motorists were told not to panic, however thousands headed to the pumps to fill up their vehicles.

Petrol stations across the county soon ran dry by a surge of panic buying following the threat of a strike by tanker drivers.

Motorists were met with long queues snaking out of filling station forecourts.

March ended in tragedy for a Witney family when ‘Little John’ Godfrey, 20, was found dead in a Witney lake five days after going missing.

The engineer was just days from his 21st birthday.

His family raised the alarm and joined friends and helpers who searched the area, while desperate messages appealing for information were posted on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.

He was the second son Mr Godfrey had lost, after 31-year-old David was killed when his car hit Radcot Bridge, near Faringdon, in 1997.

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