By Wendy Williams
WHEN history looks back at 2011 what will stand out?
It was the year of the Arab Spring that saw millions of people rise up and governments fall in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Colonel Gadaffi was killed by Libyan rebels and US forces shot Osama Bin Laden ending a 10 year manhunt.
There were riots in the UK, a phone hacking scandal that saw the closure of the News of the World and to cheer us all up a Royal wedding.
Sadly, we said goodbye to the iconic actress Elizabeth Taylor, boxing giant Joe Frazier, computer visionary Steve Jobs, troubled singer Amy Winehouse, football coach Gary Speed and the Spanish golf legend Seve Ballesteros.
And the global economic crisis continued to rear its ugly head threatening to bring an end to the euro.
Somewhat ironically, this time last year, as we looked back at 2010 we talked of a year marked by the economic recession and higher than ever unemployment in Spain. And sadly one year on exactly the same is true. Unemployment has increased again and in Andalucia around 30 per cent of people are out of work.
But crucially this has also been a year of fighting back, of the Spanish public standing up for themselves, particularly with the rise of the 15M Movement. And as we come to the end of the year this desire for change has seen new governments ushered in both here, with Rajoy, and in Gibraltar.
Through it all the Olive Press – which celebrated its fifth birthday in November – has continued to grow and grow.
Indeed we have expanded by over 100 per cent in paper numbers this year – and end 2011 with 67,000 copies (just over half downloaded digitally).
We are finally in Benalmadena and Torremolinos and stretch all the way up the southern coast from Cadiz to Almunecar.
We continue to bring you news from across the region and for the first time this year we have introduced monthly golf and gardening sections as well as a Gibraltar page in every issue.
Here we take a closer look at what made the headlines this year…
At the beginning of the year – in the Olive Press’ 100th issue – our front page story was of a woman’s fight against Jyske bank. The private bank in Gibraltar wrongly sent 40,000 euros of Diana Taylor’s money to a third party in Thailand on the strength of a rogue fax. Little did we know it would be one of several stories over the year of expats battling the banks, and we suspect quite a few more in 2012.
Sadly the year also began with the tragic murder of Arriate teen Maria Esther Jimenez, which sent the small village into a state of shock. The 17-year-old who killed her has since been sentenced to eight years behind bars.
In February we revealed a new law had been introduced that could allow developments to be built inside natural parks. Quite rightly green groups were up in arms as they feared projects like the controversial El Agarrobico hotel could be legalised by the backdoor. On this point at least green minds can now rest easy, last month Environment minister Rosa Aguilar and Junta president Jose Antonio Grinan agreed that central government will take charge of the demolition.
Meanwhile a new book proved the infamous Los Merinos golf project in Ronda was set up illegally thanks to 50 secret societies and a bunch of shady businessman.
In March we broke the exclusive story of a Huelva bouncer who claimed he knew who took missing youngster Maddie McCann. Marcelino Jorge Italiano insisted a Portuguese paedophile gang was behind the kidnapping and he fled to Spain in fear of his life. Sadly his story does not seen to have brought the police any closer to finding Maddie, however it has been revealed this month that British detectives are due to fly into Barcelona again (the second time in two months) to follow up eight other good leads.
Meanwhile March also saw scandal hit the Junta. The so-called ERE scandal came to light after at least 70 people were discovered to be falsely listed as company employees in order to claim an early retirement payoff. The 647million retirement fraud has now grown beyond the Employment Department and is still being investigated by Judge Alaya.
In April we wrote about how British expat Alwyn Funke was wanted for dodging a five star hotel bill. After publishing the article we were then flooded with stories from readers who had been left hundreds – sometimes thousands – out of pocket after falling victim to the gardener. He is still floating around, so be warned.
April also brought the sad news that British teenager Samantha Hardy had fallen to her death from the N340 bridge. We later reported in September that phone giant Vodafone was continuing to charge her father for his dead daughter’s phone bill.
Meanwhile, in celebrity news, Charles and Camilla paid Andalucia a visit and Penelope Cruz became the first Spanish actress to have her star immortalised on Hollywood’s iconic Walk of Fame.
In May Andalucia held municipal elections that saw the right wing PP sweep in across the region. The run up to the elections also saw the rise of the Indignant or 15M group which has continued to campaign for an end to corruption and the two party system of government.
In the same month notorious Costa conman Toni Muldoon was handed a two year prison sentence and a fine. Meanwhile lawyer Jose Luis Garcia Maseda, who has allegedly conned hundreds of victims, most of them British, was put in the dock.
Meanwhile controversial DJ Maurice Boland finally returned to the Costa’s airwaves after a year away. Heart FM initially helped the disgraced DJ get back on his feet before he launched his very own station iTalk last month.
In June the Olive Press investigated the shady operations of Terence Wright, his various aliases and the issue of boiler room scams on the coast.
We also revealed that Spain was promising to get tough with the telecoms industry by issuing heavy fines for poor customer service. It came after having reported numerous readers’ disaster stories about Telefonica and Vodafone. We still are.
June was also the month that the white village of Juzcar painted itself blue to promote the new Smurf film. Last week it actually held a referendum and has decided to stay that way.
In July the Olive Press sent reporter James Bryce to Pamplona to try his hand at running with the bulls. And luckily he lived to tell the tale.
We also revealed a new low in relations between Gibraltar and Spain after a scandalous incident saw a kids football team forbidden from going on stage with the Rock’s flag during a Benidorm tournament.
Eric Lucky Wilson was sentenced to 23 years in prison for gunning down Briton Dan Smith and Mad Frankie Fraser’s ‘Most Wanted’ grandson was arrested.
On a lighter and more bizarre note we also revealed how a cat was ordered to court for breaking a chandelier leaving its owners with a 1500 euro legal bill.
Our main story in August was about a horse that had to be put down after being beaten with an iron bar and dragged along the road – in front of her five month old foal. The Olive Press was flooded from calls and comments from concerned readers demanding justice and inquiring to the health of the foal. The following issue we were able to report the foal had been given a new home and was doing well.
The Olive Press also reported on some of the great musical events going on around Andalucia this summer including Creamfields in Jerez.
In September we revealed out first ever ‘Expat 100’ poll. After months of gathering suggestions from readers and high profile figures in the area our expert panel picked a definitive list topped by author Chris Stewart as the most influential foreigner from the last 200 years.
In the same month we also reported on some of the women who had been fighting back against various Costa criminals.
And – thanks to our readers – we captured the fires that swept along the Costa del Sol in pictures.
In October we led with the story Repo Riot revealing how riot police, sent in to repossess a family’s home in Jerez, clashed with demonstrators of the 15M movement. The story was a stark reminder of the bleak economy that has left millions of people unable to pay their mortgages, and the growing number of ‘indignant’ Spaniards.
In a long overdue crackdown on Town Hall corruption, we also saw former Ronda mayor Antonio Marin Lara finally arrested with dozens of cases set to be reopened.
And Spain had its own equivalent of the Royal Wedding when the nation’s beloved Duchess of Alba married her toy boy lover Alfonso Diaz in spite of her family’s objections.
Election fever took over Spain in November as the country voted in a new government. With the recession showing no signs of abating only time will tell if the country will fare better under a new leader.
Meanwhile the Olive Press – which celebrated its fifth birthday – was summoned to court while the dodgy dentist who was suing us for libel incredibly failed to show up. We found him practising at his surgery in Alhaurin el Grande, despite the fact we had revealed Rajkumar Rao had been twice struck off in the UK and should not be practising in Spain at all.
In the run up to Christmas the Olive Press struck a festive note to let you know what was coming up in the season of goodwill. We spent a night feeding the homeless and we sponsored the TRE Cudeca Telethon.
In our last issue we revealed how Spain’s cultural minister had been spending taxpayers’ money on taking six assistants to the ballet in Moscow.
And, continuing in our role as the only English language investigative newspaper in Andalucia, we looked beneath the surface of the notorious ‘Dolphin Wars’ in Gibraltar.