2021: The year in review

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  • Captain Tom Moore
    British Military (1920-2021)

Despite moving into the second year of living with the coronavirus pandemic, optimism was in the air as the UK’s second vaccine against Covid-19, developed by Oxford–AstraZeneca, was rolled out.

As the months went by, more people received their first, second and booster jabs.

However, early in January, England was placed into its third national lockdown, as the number of new daily confirmed cases surpassed 60,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.

Coronavirus – Thu Dec 2, 2021
The vaccine was rolled out over the year (Nick Potts/PA)

On the back of this, schools were shut and GCSE and A-level exams in England were replaced by teacher assessments, while the Queen received her first jab.

As this occurred, dozens of care home residents were among people evacuated to safety after Storm Christoph brought heavy rain and flooding to parts of northern England and Wales, while WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won his fight to avoid extradition to the United States.

February saw the death of charity fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore at the age of 100.

Captain Sir Tom Moore woodland
Captain Sir Tom Moore captured the hearts of the nation (Joe Giddens/PA)

It came as Public Health England (PHE) began investigating strains of coronavirus which first arose in Kent.

The E484K mutation, also present in the South African variant, was found in at least eight postcode areas of England.

Elsewhere, it was ruled that Shamima Begum could not return to the UK to pursue an appeal against the removal of her British citizenship.

However, the news cycle in February and the following few months would be dominated by the royal family after the Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to hospital, while the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they would not be returning as working members of the family.

In March, Harry and Meghan took part in their controversial TV interview with Oprah Winfrey, during which the duchess accused a member of the royal family of making a racist comment about Archie, before revealing she had suicidal thoughts.

Monarchy in crisis after series of revelations by Meghan
Harry and Meghan took part in a controversial interview (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions/PA)

The fallout of the interview saw Buckingham Palace react by saying it was taking their claims “very seriously”, while Piers Morgan departed as presenter of Good Morning Britain, after declaring his refusal to believe them.

As the story rumbled on, police were searching for missing 33-year-old Sarah Everard, before discovering her body in Kent woodland.

Serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens was arrested and charged with her murder and a vigil was held, leading to clashes between attendees and the police.

A one-minute silence was held on March 23 to mark a year since the pandemic began, days before MPs voted to extend emergency Covid-19 powers by six months.

April saw the death of Philip at Windsor Castle at the age of 99.

Duke of Edinburgh funeral
Philip’s funeral took place in April (Leon Neal/PA)

As tributes poured in from across the world, his funeral was held over a week later, with emotional scenes showing the Queen sitting alone in St George’s Chapel.

Football fans across the nation were left outraged as 12 football clubs, including the “big six” from the Premier League, agreed to join a new breakaway European Super League, bringing widespread condemnation from Uefa, Fifa and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Protests took place and following the backlash, all six English clubs withdrew days later.

It came as scientists warned of a new variant originating in India, prompting the Prime Minister to cancel a scheduled trip to the country.

Cop26 – Glasgow
Mr Johnson’s trip to India was cancelled (Phil Noble/PA)

The following month was huge for the nation’s political landscape, with the Tories’ stunning victory in Hartlepool signifying a continuing loss in trust in Labour among northern voters.

It saw a “bitterly disappointed” Sir Keir Starmer act swiftly by sacking deputy leader Angela Rayner from her role as party chair.

Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to Johnson, was back in the spotlight again as he told MPs that tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily because of the Government’s failings over coronavirus.

He also said Mr Johnson is “unfit for the job” of Prime Minister.

Dominic Cummings contract case
Mr Cummings accused the Government of failing during the pandemic (House of Commons/PA)

Pictures emerged in June of Health Secretary Matt Hancock kissing a close aide in his office.

Mr Hancock was replaced by Sajid Javid after leaving the role a day later.

However, as the sun began to shine, the sporting world started to dominate the nation’s headlines, with England beginning what would be a historic run in the Euro 2020 championships.

The Three Lions, after beating Germany at the end of June in scenes many declared a symbolic sight after coronavirus restrictions eased, marched all the way to the final at Wembley Stadium.

Wembley Stadium file photo
The Three Lions roared all the way to the final (Zac Goodwin/PA)

A closely-fought match in July against Italy saw England pushed into a nerve-wracking penalty shootout, before three missed spot kicks led to heartbreak across the nation.

That month also saw a former estate agent condemned for accosting Professor Chris Whitty when England’s chief medical officer declined to have a photo with him.

The royal family was back in the headlines that month as Jeffrey Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre started legal action against the Duke of York for allegedly sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager.

A huge incident also emerged during an evening in the Keyham area of Plymouth as gunman Jake Davison, 22, killed five people, including his mother, and injured two others, before turning the gun on himself.

Plymouth incident
Five people were killed in the Plymouth incident (Ben Birchall/PA)

September saw a sporting fairy tale as 18-year-old Emma Raducanu became the first British woman to win a grand slam singles title since Virginia Wade lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 1977, as she stormed to victory in the US Open.

Later that month, Wayne Couzens, 48, was handed a whole life sentence over the death of Ms Everard.

But it was shortages which dominated the headlines, as concerns rose over a lack of HGV drivers and a shortage of fuel at petrol stations, leading to panic-buying among consumers.

Over this month and the following few, Insulate Britain carried out road-blocks across the UK, sparking clashes with motorists and police.

Insulate Britain protests
Insulate Britain carried out protests across the UK (Ian West/PA)

As autumn came, so did new owners for Newcastle United, as a Saudi-backed consortium moved in to replace Mike Ashley.

A week later, Conservative MP Sir David Amess died after being stabbed multiple times at a meeting with constituents in Essex.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was charged with murder and preparing acts of terrorism and appeared in court, while MPs from all sides united in grief.

The Queen missed a number of events – including Cop26, Remembrance Sunday and the General Synod service – as doctors advised her to rest.

Sir David Amess funeral
The political world mourned the death of Sir David Amess (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

On Remembrance Sunday a suspected terrorist blew himself up outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital.

The UK terror threat level was raised to severe following the incident.

That week also saw Azeem Rafiq appear before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee to share his emotional and explosive experience of racism in cricket.

In the Channel, 27 people died after a boat capsized while travelling to England.

Yorkshire CCC DCMS committee hearing
Azeem Rafiq spoke of his experiences in cricket (House of Commons/PA)

The incident led to political tension between the UK and France, with Home Secretary Priti Patel kept out of discussions between European leaders.

The emergence of the Omicron variant sparked fears over another Christmas with restrictions in place.

Its discovery meant an introduction of travel restrictions and the need to wear face masks in shops and on public transport.

In December, 32-year-old Emma Tustin was jailed for life for the murder of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes after she cruelly abused, starved and poisoned him.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes death
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ death rocked the nation (Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow)

His father, Thomas Hughes, 29, was found guilty of his manslaughter, after encouraging the killing.

Meanwhile, allegations of rule-breaking festivities in the run-up to Christmas 2020 plagued Downing Street one year on.

Leaked footage from No 10’s £2.6 million press briefing room showed former press secretary Allegra Stratton laughing as she appeared to rehearse answers to questions over a lockdown-busting Christmas party.

Ms Stratton resigned over the furore while Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was tasked with an inquiry.

The party scandal roared on as Mr Johnson also faced questions over whether he misled his ministerial standards adviser during an investigation into the funding of lavish refurbishments to his flat in No 11 and as Tory MPs voiced their anger over fresh coronavirus restrictions.

Polling suggested Mr Johnson’s popularity dropped to an all-time low amid the turmoil.

In the middle of the political drama, Mr and Mrs Johnson announced the birth of their second child, a baby girl.

There was also a shock result in the North Shropshire by-election as the Liberal Democrats overturned a massive Conservative majority to take the seat by almost 6,000 votes.

Ghislaine Maxwell with Jeffrey Epstein
Ghislaine Maxwell with Jeffrey Epstein (US Department of Justice/PA)

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, 60, faces spending the rest of her life in jail after she was convicted in a New York court of helping to entice vulnerable teenagers for disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein to molest between 1994 and 2004. Her family say an appeal will be launched.

The Prime Minister said the UK is in an “incomparably better” position than this time last year as he used a new year message to announce the country had met its target to offer all adults the chance to get a booster vaccine by the end of the year.

However, celebrations are likely to be somewhat muted across the country, as revellers adapt to a raft of different restrictions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland brought in to cope with the surge of the Omicron variant and a rapid increase in hospital admissions.

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