Being a journalist is one of the best jobs in the world and every day is different.
For 30 years I’ve been at the Chronicle and now I’m leaving with decades of memories.
From the rich and famous, to the wonderful and weird, I’ve interviewed the full spectrum.
And I’ve been allowed into people’s hearts and homes as our readers have experienced their highs and lows.
Being a reporter for the Chronicle is the only job I’ve ever wanted to do and this summer I saw my 30 years anniversary at the publication that is at the nucleus of our community.
My dad worked as a photographer here as a young man and I followed in his footsteps years later.
I’m now hanging up my notebook as I start a new chapter of my life to join my retired hubby on holidays (Covid-19 allowing) and long walks.
But here I dig deep into my memories as I take a look back at my three decades on the patch.
And I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to the hundreds of readers I’ve met over the years and have entrusted me to tell their tales.
The Gulf War
I was a rookie reporter back in 1991 when the Gulf War broke out and Dougie Croskery was the first British casualty of the conflict.
He was from Whitley Bay and decades on we reported how his wife Thelma was still looking for answers and clung onto hope that he could still be alive after his body was never found.
Dougie was shot dead by Iraqi soldiers as he tried to flee Kuwait when Saddam Hussein’s troops invaded the country. Back then we printed seven editions a day and on-line didn’t exist.
It was incredibly heartbreaking but important piece of news – and I brought it to you.
North Shields riots
It was September 1991 and I had been at the Chronicle for a year. I was still learning the ropes and the riots broke out. I was sent to report on the mayhem and got caught up in the war zone.
Our car was surrounded and bricked and I ended up being our getaway driver. One hell of a night and 20 years later I dug deep into my memories to retell of the destruction, which can be read here.
Probably the biggest North East story of this century, and I was on early shift and broke the news.
Raoul Moat had gone on the rampage and shot his ex girlfriend Samantha Stobbart and her new partner Chris Brown. I was the first reporter on the scene, before the nation’s press started turning up. Samantha survived but Moat later went on to blind police officer David Rathband after shooting him in the face,
It grew into a manhunt that lasted almost seven days, and was the largest in modern British history, involving 160 armed officers and armed response vehicles, many seconded for the operation from other police forces. Ten years later I was asked to write about how that morning unfolded which can be read here. It’s a morning I’ll never forget.
He was our hero after being shot in the face by killer Raoul Moat.
We felt David Rathband’s pain and followed his journey through his recovery and getting back home after a long stay in hospital.
He moved into a new house where it was being adapted for his needs for him to build on a new life when I interviewed him. He talked openly about the path that lay ahead but he seemed up-beat about his future.
We laughed, joked and smiled together but just months later I reported on him taking his own life. He obviously wasn’t as up-beat as he portrayed. His death was such a shock and so sad. RIP David.
Derek Wallbanks shooting
It was a Saturday morning on October 12, 1991 and bail bandit Derek Wallbanks was surrounded by police. After nine hours holed up in a house he eventually came out waving a gun.
After firing twice at the ground he took aim at armed police, who shot him dead. I saw everything firsthand. He slumped to the ground and the sniffer dogs moved it. There was an eerie silence and you could hear a pin drop.
Wallbanks, 40, was the first man to be shot dead by armed police in Northumbria and it was later discovered he came at them with a starting pistol. It is a memory that will stick with me for ever.
50 years anniversary of Fairs Cup
1969 was the last time Newcastle United brought home any silverware and die-hard fans wanted to celebrate 50 years on.
The Fairs Club was set up by Bill Gibbs to remember the club’s glory days and they have worked tirelessly to keep the spirit strong for the hero Magpie footballers of yesteryear.
I have reported on their stories for more than 10 years and Bill, the boys and I have become good friends. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Cheers lads!
Joe Harvey Plaque
Joe Harvey was manager when Newcastle United won the Fairs Cup and Bill Gibbs and the members of the Fairs Club campaigned to get Joe recognition at St James’ Park.
They raised cash to get a bronze plaque created and had it erected on the Gallowgate Wall.
The unveiling took place on April 24 2014 and it was a proud moment for the fans. Later Joe’s great grandchildren visited the plaque and I interviewed Joe’s son Ken. It was a great day as I had joined in with their campaign, excitement and pride from start to finish. Well done lads!
Bobby Robson – the legend
Bobby Robson was a true gentleman. I met him on numerous occasions and he was gentle, kind and thoughtful.
I interviewed him at the Copthorne Hotel in Newcastle in 2006 after his battle with cancer and he told me how he wanted to help others. And on February 20 2009 the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre was officially opened by the man himself. Bobby died months later on 31 July 2009 and I helped write the emotional words that graced our pages.
A decade later I had the privilege of meeting the patients who have survived their own cancer battles because of his legacy and were there to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the pioneering centre being opened at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.
Grateful Rona Bojke choked back tears as she said a big thank you. It is down to the big-hearted former Newcastle United manager and the medical team at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre that she was there to tell her tale.
Bobby you are a legend and you will never be forgotten.
Jack is a child in a million.
He was born with a brain tumour and is registered blind. He’s now 12 and has already achieved more than most adults have in a lifetime. I’ve followed his journey as he’s raised over £68,000 for charity and is determined to reap in more.
Every time I speak to Jack he makes me laugh and he’s one of my most favourite people on the planet. He’s been a good reason to come to work.
It’s never boring being a journalist and every day is different.
I stumbled across Paul Allen while out on another story in Monkseaton. He’s literally tattooed from head to foot and everything in between.
He was tending to someone’s garden when I stopped the car and asking if he would like to be featured on ChronicleLive. He then appeared in just about every newspaper in the country and even appeared on ITV’s This Morning.
Work was definitely colourful that day.
Beaten up by Mr Blobby
Remember Mr Blobby?
He first appeared on TV on Noel’s House Party and the bulbous pink figure covered with yellow spots became famous.
He was opening a shop in Washington, if I recall rightly, and I was sent to interview him. He was a children’s favourite but my claim to fame was that I was beaten up by Blobby.
He never came out of character and as I asked questions he replied in his Blobby language. But things got a little scary when he knocked me to the ground, jumped on me, ruffled my hair, tore up my note book and left me with a few bruises.
Yep, Mr Blobby was definitely in a mood that day and I had a scrap with him.. Not many can say that!
I’ve done a number of strange things over the years, but I think this was the most ridiculous.
It was back in the 1990s and I spotted an advert in the classified section of our paper for a ‘Substitute Man’. Of course which woman wouldn’t want to know more. He was a blow up bloke who came boxed with a wig and was created to sit next to a woman driving alone at night to make her feel safe. Of course I ordered one and went out with a photographer to get the reaction of fellow motorists. What a laugh!
Waking up Callum Best
When heart-throb Callum Best came to Newcastle I can say he was woken up by me.
He was a guest at a club in town and was mobbed by fans coming out.
He was taken to his hotel in a police panda car and I heard on the grapevine what had happened. I knew it was a hotel on the Quayside and reckoned it would be Malmaison. I was asked by my news editor to give him a call. Of course I thought it was a stupid idea that my call would be put through to his room without any rigorous checks. But it was. He answered at 8am with a groggy voice and he gave me my quote. Thanks Callum.
My job is different every day and I’ve covered some wonderful and weird stories during my time at the Chronicle.
And meeting Caroline and Steve Cartwright, from Washington, was an eye-opener. The pair were driving their neighbours bonkers because of their loud love-making – and it was loud.
Caroline was hauled before the courts and was separated from Steve while she stayed in a bail hostel. There’s nowt as strange as folk!
Danny Weatherson is among the thousands caught up in the controversial Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences, which came into force for England and Wales in 2005 but were axed in 2012.
Danny, of Scotswood, Newcastle, was handed a 15-month IPP sentence for an attempted robbery of a coat and mobile telephone back in the summer of 2005, aged 17 years old. But he’s still behind bars.
Helping Danny to campaign for his release has brought comfort to his dad Maurice Stevens. It’s how our job can make a difference.
Another great part of being a local journalist is giving other people a platform to speak out.
Over the years I have spoken to many sexual abuse and domestic violence victims who have found strength by telling their harrowing stories.
Brave victims give courage to those who are suffering.
Thank you to all of those who have told their heartbreaking experiences to help others.
Having sensitivity and compassion is a trait a journalist should have.
Over the years I have been invited into scores of people’s homes who have entrusted me to write about their loved ones in heartwarming tributes.
Quadruple brain tumour sufferer Mark Jones was a walking medical miracle. He held his wake before he died so he could attend the party. I met Mark, of Chapel Park, Newcastle, before he died and then wrote his tribute when he passed away in 2017.
On his living room wall was a poignant message saying: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain”.
He was inspirational and that saying now hangs on a plaque in my own home.
I came into journalism because my dad, Dennis Hutchinson, was a photographer on the Sunday People. And his life was dedicated to making people laugh through his funny pictures.
After he retired he became an honorary member of staff at The Chronicle as he raided his archives to share his pictures from yesteryear. He died on July 12 2016 and I wrote his tribute giving him the send-off he deserved.
Not many daughters can say that!
Those meaningful words
It was on November 14 2006, when Tunde Sobo returned from holiday to discover her son Yemi, 41, daughter, Funke, 36, also known as Liz, and her grandchildren Steven, five, and Abigail, 12, were all found dead inside the family home, on Hawthorn Gardens, Kenton, Newcastle.
Altogether they were stabbed more than 300 times by the children’s father, Neil Crampton, who was jailed for at least 35-years after being convicted of the quadruple murder, which stunned the nation.
I knew Yemi from our days at Julie’s nightclub. And Tunde opened her heart to the Chronicle on numerous occasions.
But it was her meaningful words to me as I left her house that sticks with me most. From a woman who has suffered so much pain she held my hand and said: “Cherish your children and tell them every day that you love them.” It’s what we all should do.
I’ll never forget staring across the courtroom at serial killer Robert Black.
At a trial in Newcastle in 1994, Black was convicted of murdering three girls – Susan Maxwell, 11, from Cornhill-on-Tweed, in Northumberland, Caroline Hogg, aged five, and 10-year-old Sarah Harper – the abduction of a six-year-old girl and the attempted abduction of a 15-year-old girl. He was jailed for life. But he appeared at Newcastle Magistrates first. It was there I saw this evil killer in the flesh. He was also later found guilty at Armagh Crown Court of kidnapping and murdering schoolgirl Jennifer Cardy in August 1981. It still gives me chills.
Sunderland Strangler Stephen Grieveson
Again I covered the first court appearance of Stephen Grieveson at Sunderland Magistrates before his case was referred to the Crown Court.
Dubbed the Sunderland Strangler, he murdered four teenage boys in a series of killings committed between 1990 and 1994. He stared me out at the hearing and sent chills down my spine. Since then I spoken to the victims’ parents. Thank goodness he was handed four life sentences. But in reality the victims’ families got longer sentences than him.
It has now been almost 28 since seven-year-old Nikki was found stabbed to death in a derelict building near her Sunderland home.
To this day, no one has been brought to justice for her murder and the case remains one of the region’s most notorious unsolved slayings.
Nikki’s mum, Sharon Henderson, has spent those years campaigning for answers.
I have drank cups of tea with mum Sharon and spent many times hearing her pleas for justice, and spent with her on what would have been Nikki’s birthdays as she remembers her daughter. I hope one day she finds peace.
Sean Ridley murder
Sean Ridley’s life was brutally taken in an unsolved murder, but his family say they will never give up hope that the killer will be caught.
For more than a decade the Chronicle followed their story.
Sean, 38, was beaten up outside his girlfriend’s house in Sovereign Court, Elswick, Newcastle, and died from head injuries in 2004. There is no doubt how much his sister Yvonne Pacitti loved her brother. Her sensitivity, compassion and kindness is evident and she became a friend.
Rich and famous
My job has brought me in contact with so many stars. From football heroes to TV personalities, to authors, and everyone else in between.
Alan Shearer, Lee Clark, Peter Beardsley Chris Waddle, Gazza,Jack Charlton,Bob Moncur, Malcom MacDonald to Newcastle United old timers Vic Keeble, Willie Henderson, John McNamee, Wyn Davies, Alan Suddick and more.
Don’t you just hate name droppers!
Godfather of North East comedy
Being a journalist means you get to meet so many different people and king of comedy Bobby Pattinson is a person I’ve been in touch with for years.
Dubbed the Godfather of North East Comedy he’s raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity and has bought five buses for Variety The Children’s Charity to help disabled youngsters in the region.
And in 2014 he couldn’t stop smiling when he was told he was the only individual in the world to be given a prestigious Silver Heart Award by Variety for his charity work. At that point he’d raising more than £100,000 to sponsor four buses for disabled children on Tyneside.
I’ve laughed with Bobby, ate at his table and I can call him a friend. He’s one of the region’s finest!
Each year courageous children across the North East and Cumbria are presented with Bravehearts Awards.
The prestigious event is held at St James’ Park and inspirational youngsters are given a crystal plinth and a gift of their choice, in recognition of their strength and courage they have shown in battling illness or adversity.
Each young Braveheart has a humbling and inspiring story to tell. And they have all faced their own personal battle and have found their unique way of coping.
For many years I have met these youngsters and have shared their journeys. Their smiles and courage hold fond memories.
ChronicleLive holds its own Chronicle Champions awards and I help co-ordinate them.
They’ve grown from strength to strength as we attract hundreds of nominees each year.
Our winners are the true superstars of our region and the brave, the good and the caring are recognised for their efforts.
It really is a difficult to decision to chose our winners and I’ve been privileged to sit on the panel of judges, interview our nominees, report on our winners and took pride in presenting Colin Burgin-Plews, aka Big Pink Dress, who has become a local hero with his great fundraising efforts when he scooped our Outstanding Contribution Award last year.
Thanks to all those who took part and good luck to our future nominees.