Saddam is captured while a Yorkshire heroine inspires

Leeds Christmas lights in 2003

Leeds Christmas lights in 2003

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In the last in our series on the 12 ages of Christmas we look back to the winter of 2003, which was marked by a tyrant’s capture. Chris Bond reports.

EIGHT months earlier, the US-led coalition forces were celebrating after toppling Saddam Hussein’s savage regime in Iraq.

But by the beginning of December this early optimism had been replaced by mounting concern over the insurgency gripping the country.

In August, a suicide truck bomb had wrecked the UN headquarters in Baghdad, killing its envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, the same month in which a car bomb killed 125 people in Najaf.

November proved to be the bloodiest month of the campaign so far for the Allies as the attacks by insurgents intensified. But then on December 13 came the longed-for news that Saddam Hussein had been captured.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,” US administrator told journalists in Baghdad, his words echoed in newspaper headlines across the world.

United States President George W Bush said: “In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over. A hopeful day has arrived.”

The Yorkshire Post reported that Saddam was captured hiding in a hole in the ground. “The toppled dictator was taken into custody by American troops who raised a house near his home town of Tikrit and found him cowering in a coffin-shaped hole beneath a cellar.

“Dishevelled, bearded and weary after eight months on the run, the savage dictator gave himself up without a struggle,” wrote chief reporter Andrew Vine.

“His capture was greeted with jubilation in Iraq, where cheering crowds took to the streets, and with relief by Tony Blair and George W Bush, who said it marked a new beginning for the war-torn country.”

Elsewhere in the news, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender HBOS said that house prices in Yorkshire looked set to rise by 12 per cent the following year, predicting that 2004 would be “the year of the North.”

In 2003, which had seen house prices rise by 24 per cent in Yorkshire, the average house price in the UK was £139,492 – compared with £247,000 today (according to the Office of National Statistics).

House prices weren’t the only thing going up. According to the World Meteorological Organization, 2003 was the third- hottest in 150 years.

The climate body, which collects data from government forecasters worldwide, said the three hottest years since accurate records began in 1861 had all been in the last six years.

Nevertheless, just days before Christmas Yorkshire was hit by an icy blast as the first snow of the winter blew in from the Arctic.

A thick blanket of snow turned parts of the UK into a Christmas card scene and brought the customary “travel chaos” to the road and rail networks.

In East and North Yorkshire children were making the most of the festive weather by sledging and making snowmen.

However, those hoping for a white Christmas were left disappointed as rain washed most of the snow away the following day.

The inspirational Jane Tomlinson was also in the news. In an interview with the Yorkshire Post she talked about the highs and lows of the past 12 months and her hopes for the coming year.

The mother of three, from Rothwell, Leeds, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2000 but refused to give in to the disease.

She set herself a series of gruelling challenges that would tax even the fittest person, raising money for a number of charities along the way.

Her achievements in 2003 alone were testimony to her incredible stamina and determination. In September, Jane completed her toughest challenge to date, a half-ironman triathlon.

She swam 1.2 miles through icy waters, cycled 56 miles and then ran the 13.1 miles of a half marathon, surpassing even her own high expectations by crossing the finish line 23 minutes faster than her seven-hour target.

That came on top of completing the London Marathon, London Triathlon, Great North Run – all for the second time – and tandem cycling 1,060 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End with her brother back in March.

She had raised more than £400,000 for the four charities that made up Jane’s Appeal and had her sights on some “very big” events for 2004.

“As long as I am well I am definitely going to have one last year of fundraising.” She spoke, too, about her hopes to hit the million pound mark in the next 12 months.

“I see lots of poorly children in my working life. If I can use what I’m doing to help other people in the future, then that’s good.

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