Islington’s year in news: Gazette recaps the best, worst and oddest of 2018
PUBLISHED: 16:05 31 December 2018 | UPDATED: 15:09 04 January 2019
We look back at the last 12 months to bring you the highlights and lowlights of Islington’s year. Tragedies, celebrations, planning battles, Arsene Wenger’s resignation – 2018 has seen it all, and so have we (well, most of it).
Politics: The battle for Islington (but mainly for Highbury East)
If we’ve learnt anything at the polls in recent years it’s to expect the unexpected.
Which might be why there were whispers of political upset in Highbury East at this year’s local election, an area that had given Islington its sole opposition councillor in 2014.
As the election neared, Labour appeared to be concentrating enormous resources on the ward where its grasp is historically weakest, with all 47 of its councillors and even Mr Corbyn turning out to canvass. The party had taken a recent knocking locally thanks to controversies around barbecuing in Highbury Fields (now banned in part), the closure of the Sotheby Mews day centre (now postponed until March), and Green councillor Caroline Russell’s tireless and visible campaigning (ongoing).
In the end, it was business as usual – Cllr Russell hugely increased her majority but her hopes of companionship in the chamber were dashed when Benali Hamdache failed to come third by just a handful of votes.
Knife crime: Another year of bloodshed
June 29, 2018, was 10 years since Ben Kinsella’s murder in Holloway, and the Gazette marked the anniversary with a special edition on knife crime.
It made for grim reading: Ben’s family, who have welcomed thousands of local kids through the doors of their powerful anti-knife exhibition at Finsbury Library, admitted the problem wasn’t improving.
The year began particularly badly, with Steve Frank Narvaez-Jara fatally knifed in Old Street just hours into 2018.
Since then, the bloodshed has continued: Kwasi Anim-Romeo Boadu on the Andover Estate in April; Marcel Campbell in Upper Street in May; and Ali Al-Har in Tufnell Park in September have all been stabbed to death within the borough. Only Marcel’s killing has yet seen justice, with Reece Williams jailed for his manslaughter last month.
The Kinsellas’ work continues alongside their grief, with plans for a new youth centre in Ben’s memory and the “10 for Ben” project for kids to do good deeds in Ben’s memory. They say knife crime is everyone’s problem.
Road safety: Two cyclists die and one loses a leg
Designer Soren Aarlev and scientist Maria Bitner-Glindzicz died in the space of three months after being hit by cars while cycling in the south of the borough.
Soren, who worked at a Clerkenwell firm, was killed in Goswell Road in July while Maria, a celebrated professor and charity patron, died in St John Street in September. No one has been arrested over either of their deaths.
And a long-overdue plan to make Old Street roundabout safer for cyclists and pedestrians was made a priority for all the wrong reasons, in the wake of another horrific collision that cost Al Jazeera journalist Sarah Doone her leg.
Sarah was hit by a cement mixer while cycling in July. Her friends raised tens of thousands of pounds to support her while she couldn’t work.
Major work to improve both Old Street roundabout and Highbury Corner is now under way, while the connecting up of flagship cycle route CS1 along Balls Pond Road is due in the spring.
Arsenal: Wenger resigns
After 1,228 games, 704 wins and 22 years in charge of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger called it a day at the end of last season.
Many felt the time was right, some thought it had come too late, but everyone got behind the great man to pay their respects following his announcement in April.
Wenger’s tenure ended with a slightly underwhelming 1-0 victory away at Huddersfield but the game was – aside from being his farewell – a dead rubber. The Gunners’ season had effectively ended when they got knocked out of the Europa League in the semi-final by Atletico Madrid.
He won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups during his time at Highbury and The Emirates.
Arsenal fans are now optimistic about the future under new boss Unai Emery, although their 22-game unbeaten run came to an end recently.
Wenger has not returned to the game, but has not announced his retirement either.
Crime: Anti-social behaviour in the north of the borough
A crack den next door to Ambler Road’s rather more celebrated topiary elephants was raided and shut down in July after a long campaign by neighbours and councillors – but that wasn’t the only reason the Highbury West and Finsbury Park wards were in the headlines.
Over the summer the Gazette began receiving reports and photographs of drug users, rubbish and even faeces smeared on the walls of stairs to the Morrisons car park in Holloway.
A dad living nearby claimed the same people had been breaking into blocks of flats and soliciting prostitution, injecting smack and terrorising children in communial areas.
Morrisons told us it had a “zero-tolerance” approach to the problem but it wasn’t until November that it shut the two stairwells (which had functioned as emergency exits). A week later, police in Islington, Hackney and Haringey – the three boroughs that converge on Finsbury Park – launched a major joint op to get spiralling crime rates down.
Politics: Gazette’s Sandy Marks investigation vindicated by QC
In May 2017, the Gazette revealed evidence linking former Islington mayor Sandy Marks to pro-paedophile campaign groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s – connections she denied.
Nearly 18 months on, an independent review into the evidence by top lawyer Sarah Morgan QC upheld our findings.
But Ms Morgan’s report frustrated survivors and victims of the child abuse scandal in Islington a generation ago by failing to uncover any evidence of organised wrongdoing within the borough’s care system in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
The Labour Party has also refused to say when its own internal investigation into Ms Marks would be complete, or what there actually was left to investigate in light of Ms Morgan’s work.
Veteran councillor and disability campaigner Ms Marks had political oversight of Islington children’s homes at the time children were being sexually and physically abused there – a scandal that was brought to light in 1992.
The Gazette believes she has no place in politics until she comes clean about her past with the Fallen Angels and Conspiracy Against Public Morals, which she has denied both in interviews with us and while speaking to Ms Morgan.
Housing: Homes crisis continues but council wins landmark victory at High Court
Islington’s housing waiting list stretches to 14,000, with hundreds in temporary accommodation and 43 rough sleepers spotted on the annual count last month (the true figure is likely much higher).
Meanwhile, the borough’s biggest development opportunity, the old Holloway Prison site, remains frustratingly empty – despite campaign group Reclaim Holloway having debunked the MoJ’s claim that the visitors’ centre was still being used for training and therefore couldn’t be turned into a women’s centre.
But two pieces of good news could mean change is afoot.
First, Islington won a key victory against the developer of the former Territorial Army site in Parkhurst Road. The decision, made by the Planning Inspectorate last year and upheld at the High Court in April, means developers will find it harder to shirk on affordable homes targets purely based on how much they’ve paid for a site.
Secondly, Theresa May surprised everyone in October by vowing to lift the borrowing cap that stops councils taking out bigger loans to build homes.
Odd: Tales that raised eyebrows – in Islington and at the Gazette
Things got slippery at the newly refurbished Highbury Leisure Centre over a chronic lack of soap in the men’s showers, with one gym goer warning disaster could be imminent as people washed in unsuitable hand cleanser.
But no sooner had managers addressed this than the swimming pool burnt down – just seven months after its £2.5million facelift. Workers on the roof are thought to have started it by accident.
The ruined building is now set for demolition, though the rest of the gym is open again. A group of primary school children who had been swimming at the time of the fire were invited to meet the mayor in November, presumably as some sort of consolation prize.
Causing less of a stir were radical but uninvited plans to pedestrianise Upper Street published in April by cutting-edge Clerkenwell firm Zaha Hadid Architects. They have not been acted upon.
And a localised recession near the Emirates blamed on the Gunners’ poor season came to an end when Wenger left (above).