“The Real Merthyr”

The town of Merthyr Tydfil has become a byword for poverty and deprivation.

The media and politicians have used the town to illustrate many negative aspects of society: crime, unemployment and sickness.

But do the facts support the reputation?

Earlier this year Wales This Week and ITV Wales reporter Hannah Thomas, who comes from the town, went in search of  ‘the real Merthyr Tydfil’.

The programme is still available on-line here.

The market stalls: a look at the Welsh housing market

When the credit crunch hit in 2008 the housing market was the first part of the economy to suffer.

Now, with talk of a second recession looming, Wales This Week looks ahead to ask what’s going to happen to Welsh house prices in 2012.

And the programme investigates how first time buyers – the engine of the property market – are finding new ways to get on the housing ladder.

See the programme here.

** “Great programme…thanks for a balanced and well informed look at the state of the sector.” Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru

Snowdonia At 60

Last month marked the 60th anniversary of the creation of Snowdonia National Park.

National Parks were created in the years when Britain was rebuilding after the Second World War.

The earliest were designated in 1951 and Snowdonia was among them.

This firstWelshNational Parkwas about conserving the past.

But, 60 years on, does it still have a role to play?

That’s the question Wales This Week asked on the night of the anniversary, October 18.

We filmed across the park with attractions such as the Welsh Highland Railway and the Pen-y-Gwryd pub where the Mount Everest team based themselves for their training ahead of their 1953 ascent.

We also visited Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue, Graig Wen on the Mawddach estuary and the couple behind the Baavet duvet.

The programme is now on You Tube.

The Bullseye Killer – and the Llangolman deaths

Further links are now being made between Welsh serial John Cooper and the murder of an elderly brother and sister from Pembrokeshire.

Forensic psychologist Dr Clive Sims said there are enough similarities between Cooper’s crimes and the deaths of Griff and Patti Thomas at their farmhouse in Llangolman in 1976 to suggest “he may at least be a suspect in this case.”

Cooper was jailed in May for the shotgun murders of Richard and Helen Thomas and Peter and Gwenda Dixon in the 1980s. Richard and Helen Thomas were a wealthy brother and sister living in a manor house near Milford Haven, while the Dixons were a married couple enjoying a holiday walk on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.

The deaths of Griff and Patti Thomas, aged 73 and 70, in December 1976 were initially treated as murder.

But Dyfed-Powys Police later concluded that Mr Thomas had argued with his sister before hitting her on the head with a blunt instrument, and setting himself on fire.

No weapon was ever found.

In February 1977 an inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter in the case of Miss Thomas and an open verdict for her brother. The pair had lived together all their lives.

Last week, on BBC Wales’s Taro Naw programme, Dr Clive Sims said he believed the inquest verdicts were “unsafe”.

“I feel that there would be substantial evidence for looking at this case again as a cold case,” he said, adding that he believes they were killed by an intruder following a “botched burglary”.

“There is an empty cash box, the bureau has been broken into, the back door is unlocked and certain aspects of it simply do not make sense,” he said.

It was reported that Cooper had no record of criminal activity at the time of the deaths at Llangolman in 1976.

However, that is not quite the case. During research for an hour-long special on Cooper, The Bullseye Killer, on ITV in May, the Wales This Week team discovered that Cooper had first come to the police’s attention in the 1960s.

Firstly, as a 17-year-old when he was caught with an offensive weapon and then for assault on police officers and a man outside a nightclub.

As Dr Sims said during Taro Naw: “It’s quite probable that he would have been offending earlier [before 1985]. It would be extremely unusual for someone to start that late in life on a criminal career, and to start with that level of violence.”

Perhaps the most convincing links between Cooper and a further suspicious death remain those with Florence Evans.

Mrs Evans, known as Flo, who was found fully clothed in the bath of her home in Rosemarket in February 1989, shortly before the Dixons were shot.

She was a 74-year-old widow, but was active and fit.

Friends and neighbours were deeply concerned by the strange circumstances of her death.

She had been found fully dressed and lying face down in a bath of freezing cold water.

There was no sign of forced entry at the house and an inquest recorded a verdict of accidental death.

However, Flo Evans employed a local gardener and handyman – John Cooper.

Dyfed-Powys Police officers are reviewing whether he was connected to any other murders, and are liaising with South Wales Police over any possibility “connectivity” with the deaths of Harry and Megan Tooze who were shot at close range at their farmhouse at Llanharry near Bridgend in 1993.

The Bullseye Killer

John Cooper is one of the most notorious criminals in British history.

He burgled, raped and murdered during a 15-year reign of terror, which included four executions by shotgun. And, far from keeping a low profile between crimes, he even took time to appear on the gameshow Bullseye.

This year, he was jailed for life. ITV Wales had exclusive access to the police enquiry and forensic science which finally trapped Cooper.

An hour-long programme The Bullseye Killer was transmitted the night Cooper was jailed in May. But it’s still on-line. Follow this link to watch it now.

The Real Merthyr

Merthyr Tydfil is most often in the news for the wrong reasons.

But statistics about poor health and high unemployment don’t tell the whole story.

In this programme, Merthyr-born reporter Hannah Thomas goes behind the headlines to try to find the true heart of her home town.

One point made, in particular, about the stats that leaves the town on the wrong end of too many league tables is that the size and economic make up of the borough skews the figures.

Because Merthyr is such a tiny unitary authority with many deprived wards and no affluent areas its average is always much lower than anywhere else. In other words it has no wealthy streets to balance things out.

The programme has received an incredible response.

Watch Wales This Week: ‘The Real Merthyr’ here.

The Welsh Blitz

Seventy years ago the people of Cardiff and Swansea were suffering hardship, injury and death as the Luftwaffe increased its raids against British cities.

January 1941 saw a bomb cause severe damage to Llandaff Cathedral while, in February, Swansea became one of the first cities to suffer three consecutive nights of bombing.

A special programme on the Welsh Blitz, which was shown on the 70th anniversary of the Swansea Three Night Blitz, is available on the ITV Wales website.

You can watch it here.

Supreme court ruling on school “hidden killer”

The UK Supreme Court has upheld an historic judgement in which a former pupil took legal action for being exposed to asbestos while at school.

Dianne Willmore died aged 49 of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma on October 15, 2009, the day after she heard that the Appeal Court had upheld a High Court judgement on her case.

The Supreme Court today agreed that Ms Willmore had been negligently exposed to asbestos by Knowsley Metropolitan Borough council when she was at school.

According to the Asbestos in Schools campaign “more than 75 per cent of schools in the country [UK] contain asbestos, with most containing the more dangerous types”.

In February 2011 the Department for Education Asbestos Steering Group, which was established last year, unanimously recommended that the Government commissions an assessment of the asbestos risks to children.

Welsh concerns about asbestos in schools were highlighted in April 2009 when occupational hygienist Robin Howie addressed a conference hosted by Nick Ramsey AM at the National Assembly for Wales.

Mr Howie claimed a hidden “horror story” was unfolding in UK schools with rates of mesothelioma “a factor of ten higher” in male teachers than in other people who do not work with asbestos. He said rates of mesothelioma in female teachers were “higher to a factor of two-and-a-half”. He added: “I think the teaching statistics are the tip of the iceberg. For every teacher exposed, then we have 20-30 children.”

Mr Howie repeated these concerns in an edition of the ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week.

In the same programme Tim Cox, of the NASUWT, said the dangers of asbestos was “one of the most important issues we’ve ever had to deal with”.

He stated. “We are talking about the long-term health of the population of Wales. We are talking about the teachers and support staff in schools at the moment but we are also talking about the children, the children of Wales, over the next 10 to 20 years, who could be affected by this terrible, terrible disease.”

Mr Cox demanded the removal of all asbestos from school buildings.

No public inquiry into Robbie Powell’s death

The Home Office and Attorney General’s Office have blocked calls for a public inquiry into the death of a 10-year-old boy who died after a failure to carry out a medical test which would have identified a rare treatable condition.

Former First Minister Rhodri Morgan became a late convert to the idea of a public inquiry into Robbie Powell’s death just before he retired from office a year ago.

His successor, Carwyn Jones, also felt an inquiry might help the Welsh NHS “learn lessons” about future care.

It would also, no doubt, help Robbie’s family – considering they have spent years campaigning for the full facts about Robbie’s death to be made public.

However, Mr Jones took advice from Whitehall departments on the matter of a possible joint inquiry. The Welsh Assembly Government said this week: “Confirmation was received during the summer that the Home Office and Attorney General’s Department were not agreeable to the setting up of a joint inquiry.  Since then the First Minister has been considering the matter further.

“ The First Minister’s decision is not to cause a public inquiry into this matter under the Inquiries Act 2005, but to initiate an independent investigation and report into this case, which will make recommendations with a view to the future running of the health service in Wales.  The details of the investigation, including its starting date and the name of the investigator, will be made known shortly.”

Robbie Powell, of Ystradgynlais, died at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, in April 1990 of Addison’s disease after a test that could have diagnosed this rare but treatable condition was not carried out.

An inquest in 2004 returned a verdict of death by natural causes aggravated by neglect.

His father, William Powell, has campaigned for a public inquiry ever since.

Mr Jones said many issues raised by the case fell outside the Welsh Assembly Government’s responsibilities.

“The issues that fall within the Assembly Government’s remit mainly touch upon the operation of the health service in Wales,” he said. “An independent investigation by one person simply doesn’t meet the needs and requirements of this tragic case.

“While the structures and systems in the health service have changed significantly over the years, I am of the opinion that the facts of an individual case can illustrate weaknesses, or potential weaknesses, which did exist and which are relevant to the workings of the system and arrangements now in place.”

Nick Bourne, leader of the Welsh Conservatives at the Assembly, has urged Carwyn Jones to reconsider the decision.

“The process announced by Carwyn Jones is a long way from what is needed – an open and transparent review into the circumstances surrounding Robbie’s death,” he said.

“This is what Robbie’s father has been tirelessly campaigning to achieve and it is what I have been calling for since 2003.

 “An independent investigation by one person simply doesn’t meet the needs and requirements of this tragic case.

 “Before his departure from office, former First Minister Rhodri Morgan agreed that a public inquiry was the right course of action and I urge the current First Minister to look again at (his) decision.”

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