Cannabis, crime and THAT wedding video: Most read stories of 2019 revealed
There was no shortage of big news stories coming out of the Black Country this year.
And it seems that for many, developments off the pitch at Wolves were the most gripping of all. The club’s plans for the future feature three times in our list of the stories that most captivated our readers during 2019.
The announcement of plans to redevelop the Steve Bull stand, followed by the tantalising Molineux masterplan and the announcement about the possible end of days for the underpass linking the stadium to the city were all of interest to readers.
Elsewhere, stories about fast food chains coming and going were also popular – both McDonalds and KFC closed long-serving stores in the region during the year.
Stories about crime also featured, from the sentencing of the teenager jailed for killing Viktorija Sokolova to the discovery of a drugs farm just yards from Wolverhampton’s busiest shopping area.
There were punch-ups at weddings, burglary gangs, discoveries of potentially explosive devices under motorways, the closure of a hospital when a man showed up covered in white powder and appearances from Hollywood celebrities.
All in all, the range of incidents amounted to a busy year on expressandstar.com. Here we take a look a back.
1. The city centre drugs farm
A large cannabis farm was found in a disused building on one of Wolverhampton’s busiest city centre streets.
About 200 plants were found growing in the old Nationwide building near the Man on the ‘Oss statue in Queen Square in August.
2. Debenhams to depart Wolverhampton
Debenhams revealed discounts of up to 70 per cent off as work to wind up the store in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre began in November.
Preparations for the arrival of House of Fraser’s huge new multi-brand store will begin in the new year and will be one of the first of Mike Ashley’s rebranded Frasers stores.
Debenhams' sale is continuing into the new year as the shop prepares to leave just over two years after it opened in the centre in 2017.
3. Stafford fire horror
The nation mourned when four young children were killed in a house fire in Stafford in February.
The siblings - Olly Unitt, three, Tilly Unitt, four, Keegan Unit, six, and Riley Holt, eight - died during a fire at their home in the Highfields area of the town
Mother Natalie Unitt and partner Chris Moulton, survived after jumping out of a first-floor window with a fifth child, two-year-old Jack.
Tens of thousands of pounds was raised for the family in the aftermath, while the house has since been demolished.
4. Merry Hill McDonald's shuts
Readers couldn't stop sharing when McDonald’s announced it was closing one of its branches at Merry Hill shopping centre at the beginning of January.
Staff from the branch – which was located on the upper mall near to Primark and Mark’s and Spencer – were offered jobs in nearby restaurants, a spokesman said.
McDonald’s other Merry Hill restaurants in the lower mall and the retail park remained open.
5. Wolves' Molineux vision revealed
The first of three Wolves stories on the most-read list is from when the club unveiled a vision for a magnificent new-look Molineux in May.
The breathtaking artist impressions included a huge single-tier South Bank, as well as revamped Steve Bull and Billy Wright stands.
The images were released at the club’s end of season awards to give an insight into their long-term dream for Molineux.
6. Mouse poo bakery fined
A bakery producing Caribbean bread products for thousands of supermarket customers paid a £30,000 price for a string of food safety failings in July.
Readers were shocked to hear that such failings had been going on at a bakery which supplied supermarket giants Morrisons, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco
Environmental health officers repeatedly warned Sunrise Bakery in Woodlands Street, Smethwick, of the risk to public health posed by mouse droppings and filthy working conditions, Wolverhampton Crown Court was told.
7. Shotgun attack injures six-year-old boy
Sadly shootings and stabbings have remained uncomfortably common in the Black Country and an innocent six-year-old boy was caught up in one particularly shocking attack.
The boy suffered injuries to his back and hand when a shotgun was fired at a house in the Eastfield area of the city just before 4pm on Good Friday.
The shot was fired as the boy fled inside with his brother and another boy after the youngsters saw a gang of people running towards them followed by a man holding a gun.
His father Adburahaman Tukwalesharif, who came to the UK from Somalia with his wife and six-month-old son in 2002, said: "I came here because my country had problems. I came here to get safe. Now this happens."
7. The man making £100k custom campers
Readers up and down the country were interested in the story of custom camper van creator Mark Cooper.
When cabinet maker Mark struggled to find the camper van of his dreams, he decided to create his own.
Seeing a gap in the market Mark set up a business producing VW campers with bespoke interiors with his wife Clare, daughter Amy and son Ben.
It's not in its 10th year and is going strong.
8. Flood torrent rips side off house
The side of a house was ripped away after a torrent of water flooded a road in Tipton during what was a very wet autumn.
Flood water gushed along Park Lane West after a main burst spectacularly at around 2pm on October 14.
People had to be evacuated near the leak as emergency crews battled through the waters to reach the scene.
The force of the burst shot water 20ft into the sky and into the side of a house.
9. Huge Holiday Inn fire
If you were in Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sandwell or driving along the M6 on August 2 then there's a strong chance you would have seen this.
A Holiday Inn was destroyed when a fire started in the sauna and ripped through the rest of the hotel.
The video and pictures from the scene were shocking.
Around 60 firefighters in 10 fire engines tackled the blaze at the hotel next to Junction 10 of the M6, with crews remaining at the site all weekend investigating the cause.
10. Drugs gang leader locked up
Court cases are a staple of regional news reporting, but one case in particular caught our readers' attention: that of Christopher Jones, aka Ricky Bates.
The drugs ring leader’s lavish lifestyle came to an end in November when he was locked up for 18 and a half years.
Jones was sentenced for a variety of offences including supplying cocaine, amphetamines and GBL, possessing a pump-action shotgun and importing a firearm.
No more first-class flights or Dubai camel rides for the Codsall crook.
11. Beeb film crews hit Wolverhampton
Residents were intrigued when tents were put up, old cars arrived and cameras started rolling in Wolverhampton in November.
It soon emerged that crews were filming a new BBC period drama 'Small Axe'.
The star-studded cast features Star Wars’ John Boyega and Black Panther’s Letitia Wright, alongside Alex Jennings and Line of Duty actress Rochenda Sandall.
Directed by Oscar and BAFTA winner Steve McQueen, the show will be a six-part series telling five stories set within London’s West Indian community.
12. Cannock snubbed in outlet village name
If you live in Cannock you'll know about the new designer outlet village - the development has meant 2019 has been full of roadworks and delays in the area.
And locals were upset when it was revealed the retail outlet's name ignores both the town and county where it is based.
The new £160 million development is in the heart of Cannock and Staffordshire – but will be named McArthurGlen Designer Outlet West Midlands
MP Amanda Milling wrote to the joint managing director of development of McArthurGlen, Gary Bond, to ask why the local name had been snubbed.
13. England football fan dies in Bulgaria
There was an outpouring of grief when Rob Spray, a West Brom fan from Heath Hayes, died ahead of England's match against Bulgaria in October.
Mr Spray's family called for answers after the 32-year-old died in mysterious circumstances ahead of the national team’s European Championship qualifying match in Sofia.
More than £25,000 was raised for Mr Spray's family, who were left upset at the Bulgarian authorities' lack of answers over their loved one's death.
14. Dog set on pet cat in Walsall
CCTV footage which showed a man deliberately setting his dog on a pet cat in Walsall was shared across the world in June.
Father-of-two Amos Price was eventually jailed for 18 weeks for the attack which left his neighbour's cat dead.
Price and his family have since been the target of death threats, Walsall magistrates heard.
15. Brooklyn in the Black Country
Brooklyn Beckham swapped the red carpet in Hollywood for the back streets of Coseley for a music video shoot in May.
The model and photographer arrived at Mary Dermott Memorial Hall, in Gough Road, with little ceremony for the shoot for Birmingham band JAWS.
Brooklyn was also pictured outside the study centre with his girlfriend, model Hana Cross.
16. Goodbye KFC
KFC closed its Wolverhampton restaurant in October in a blow to the city centre which left local chicken-lovers upset.
The fast-food chain, located outside the Mander Centre and fronting onto Queen Square, suddenly shut, with signs and branding removed rapidly and the windows covered up.
KFC said it was looking at opening a smaller outlet within the city centre.
17. Steve Bull stand expansion
Before the revelation of the Molineux masterplan, Wolves announced they were to expand the Steve Bull stand first as part of any redevelopment.
Club bosses had been in discussions for some time about how and when to redevelop and expand their Molineux home, which can currently house around 31,000 fans.
Work on the Steve Bull Stand could start in 2020.
18. Tori's killer locked up
The 17-year-old who murdered 14-year-old Viktorija Sokolova with such savagery it shocked the nation was locked up for a minimum of 19 years in February.
At the time the killer's identity had not been revealed due to his age, but a legal challenge from the Express & Star meant in July he was named as Ayman Aziz.
Mr Justice Jeremy Baker told Aziz as he passed sentence at Wolverhampton Crown Court: “You carried out a brutal rape and murder with truly shocking violence.”
Young Viktorija was mercilessly bludgeoned to death after being lured to a late night rendezvous at the wooden pavilion - nicknamed the 'black house' - in Wolverhampton’s West Park.
19. Masked burglary gang terror
Of the many Black Country crime stories this year, there was one that particularly angered the local community: that of a masked gang who targeted elderly people over and over again in the autumn.
Residents followed the case closely as a specialist unit was set up by West Midlands Police after pensioners in the area were targeted 29 times in 10 October days.
The culprits either used brute force or posed as police officers and utility workers to gain entry to victims’ homes before fleeing with cash and jewellery.
Four men from Wrexham in North Wales were eventually charged
20. Sir Rod rocks Molineux
Singing superstar Sir Rod Stewart played Molineux in June in the first big concert to be staged at the stadium in 16 years.
Thousands turned out for the show three weeks after the end of Wolves’ season as the rock legend performed to support of the release of his 30th studio album Blood Red Roses.
And fans flocked to our website to follow coverage of the show.
21. THAT wedding brawl
Incidents are common at weddings, but rarely do they escalate to the extent of a fully blown brawl like the one at the Ramada Hotel in Wolverhampton in November.
Video footage of the violence went viral after three people were taken to hospital but no arrests were made.
Family members of the bride and groom later threatened to sue the hotel for an alleged breach of privacy, claiming staff filmed the fight and uploaded the footage to social media - claims the hotel strongly refuted.
Some of the group even staged a protest outside the Grade II-listed Ramada after claiming to have received an £85,000 bill to cover the damages - again a claim the hotel denied.
22. Peaky Blinder beers to move north
A brewery announced plans in December to close its Black Country base and move production to Cumbria – taking its Peaky Binder beer with it.
Shocked staff at Sadler’s Brewery, based in Lye, Stourbridge, were told of the plans in a meeting.
The move would mean the Peaky Blinder Pale Ale would be produced 160 miles from the region.
23. Molineux subway to be ditched
Also on the Molineux redevelopment, it was revealed that the subway that rings under the ring road to connect the stadium with Wolverhampton city centre could be ditched as part of the plans for the future of the ground.
Wolverhampton Council’s top boss Tim Johnson said he wanted to replace the underpass, which has been used by Wolves fans for decades.
The news sparked a huge reaction online, with many fans becoming nostalgic for the subway and its chequered - and sometimes violent - past.
24. Unexploded 'bomb' shuts M5
While the longest-running M5 story might be the roadworks in Oldbury, the most read was when the motorway was closed for more than hour in March due to the exploits of a magnet fishing family.
The road was shut after a nine-year-old boy found an unexploded device while fishing with magnets in a canal underneath it.
Scott Hargood’s nine-year-old son Finley found the metal tube-like object in the water off Stone Street – but police later said they though it was was a flare.
25. Rees-Mogg calls for probe into JLR 'sweetener'
Brexit may have dominated the political agenda this year but thankfully it's first and only mention comes at the bottom of our list.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Eurosceptic Conservative MP, called for an investigation into a £110 million “sweetener” given to Jaguar Land Rover under EU rules.
The firm was given the cash by Slovakia in 2015 to shift production of its Land Rover Discovery model to the central European country, and has since created 2,350 jobs there.
Prior to 2015 the model was made at the JLR plant in Solihull.
The news came as JLR, which employs around 1,800 people at its Wolverhampton engine factory, announced that it was axing up to 4,500 British jobs amid a downturn in China.
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