17th November 2018
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Review of the Year – January: Cold winter, heat on the council (again)

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Newborn Holly Hunter just missed the Hogmanay celebrations. The first baby to be born at Lerwick’s Gilbert Bain Hospital in 2010 came into the world at 1.35am on Saturday 2nd January, a daughter to Alison Hunter and Bobby Gray of Burra.

There was joy, too, for former health board chairwoman Betty Fullerton, albeit for a rather different reason. The SIC councillor was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s honours list for services to healthcare in the isles.

On most people’s minds, though, was the weather. Shetland was caught in a lengthy cold snap, which had started in December. Schools closed as roads became blocked with snow. Gritter drivers worked on overtime in a battle to keep the main routes clear. The most com­parable period for wintry conditions was December 1981.

NorthLink Ferries’ schedules were thrown into disarray when rough seas and a heavy swell forced Aberdeen Harbour to close. This would be a recurring theme as the year drew to a close as well.

Angela O’Sullivan, 71, from North Wales, was killed when the car she was travelling in overturned on a single track road on the West Side. She had been trying to reach Sumburgh Airport to catch a flight home after holidaying in the isles over Christmas.

Sustainable Shetland criticised Viking Energy for failing to renew planning permission for a temporary test mast on a hill above Tresta, which had run out almost two years beforehand.

Rumblings of disquiet continued to be heard over the SIC’s recent performance and the conduct of its recently-installed chief executive, David Clark. In an attempt to turn the tide against the bad publicity, Mr Clark called for a newsletter to be pro­duced, which would tell of the council’s good deeds. He gained narrow support from elected mem­bers for his proposal.

Meanwhile, senior councillor Allan Wishart – when not putting out fires at Viking Energy – jumped to the council’s defence. At a com­munity council meeting in Lerwick he argued against a growing per­ception that the council was failing. Yet the public’s anger would reach boiling point in just a few short weeks.

In the middle of it all, councillor Caroline Miller defended herself over her involvement in husband Frank Miller’s knitwear firm Judane. She stated that money paid into her account by budget retailer Chris Hodge, while he was a tenant at Judane’s Gremista premises, was used to pay off the company’s creditors.

Her comments came as the council defended a controversial decision to write off £411,000 of debt owed to the public purse by the knitwear firm. The SIC said it was the best deal that could be secured in the circumstances.

It was revealed that garages in the isles sold twice as many new cars during December as they did during the same period in 2008, giving hope that the economic picture in Shetland was rosier than elsewhere.

There were concerns about the length of time it took patients in Lerwick to be seen by a doctor. The local NHS board admitted it was puzzled by the unusually high number of people seeking appoint­ments in the town compared with those in the country.

The long-awaited CCTV system for Lerwick’s town centre was “imminent” according to Shetland’s area commander, chief inspector David Bushell. Although the cam­eras did start rolling in February, months would pass before a promised public unveiling would be held.

Former ambulanceman Steve Mathieson was appointed as VisitScotland’s new Shetland man­ager.

Three people had a lucky escape when the camper van they were travelling in caught fire as they headed for Lerwick.

It emerged care home residents who had set aside money throughout their lives were facing exorbitant hikes in residential fees amid plans by Shetland Charitable Trust to withdraw a subsidy. Trustees feared being hauled across the coals by the charity regulator for giving money to the well-off.

The proposals were highlighted by Stella Robertson, whose 97-year-old mother, May Fair, was facing charges of over £1,100 a week for her care at Taing House.

Councillors gave a cool reception to plans for a major new housing development in Scalloway. The Utnabrake project was put on hold until the outcome of an appeal on the separate Veensgarth proposal was known.

Illegal drugs continued to make an unwelcome appearance in the isles. A report showed seizures of class A substances, such as heroin, had almost doubled in the last year. Mr Bushell said intelligence-led policing had, naturally, led to more arrests.

Meanwhile two Glasgow men were given lengthy jail terms after being caught with the drug.

Schoolgirl Sophie Wishart won a competition to name NorthLink’s new freight vessel. The 12-year- old, who was Shetland’s junior young musician of the year, sug­gested the name Hildasay, after the uninhabited island off Scallo­way.

A fiddle created for the National Museum of Scotland by Ewen Thom­son was showcased by some of Shetland’s best musical talent at a free concert in the museum.

The BBC announced a new series of Shetland Diaries would be presented by wildlife presenter Simon King. More tragedy struck when north-east fisherman Iain Herd, 44, from Keith, died after falling overboard as he made his way between two boats sheltering from high winds at Lerwick Harbour.

Meanwhile, well-known and popular local disc jockey Charlie Gair died suddenly at the age of 55.

There was fun, frolics and a mighty roar as the Scalloway fire festival got underway.

The main highlight in January was, of course, Up-Helly-A’. Guizer Jarl Rae Simpson, fireman and third-generation Guizer Jarl in his family, kissed the Avie Jane goodbye before consigning her to the flames.

William “Feejur” Tait marked 50 years since he had been head of the jarl’s squad.

In sports, Shetland lasses Inga Woods, Emma Leask and Sophie May Leyland were selected for the national netball squad in time for the Netball Europe Under-17 Championships.

And local fencer Chris Rocks triumphed in Scotland’s most prestigious competition. He became Scottish épée champion, while his twin brother Stephen came fifth in the men’s sabre.

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