Twenty Years Ago Today: News Roundup

No NewsTwenty years ago today, it was another one of those days when not much was happening. Except for all the things that were, but none of them were so compelling or historic as to merit a blog post of their own. So here's some quick bits & bites of what else was going on...

  • London Underground introduced a penalty fare of £10 for people without tickets - which had to be paid on the spot. The ticket inspectors (who had been renamed Revenue Protection Inspectors) were permitted to accept only one excuse: that the ticket office was closed and the ticket machine was broken. And they had a machine with them that allowed them to check. 300 people were caught out on the first day, and LU confidently expected the annual £30m cost of faredodging to be significantly reduced. Don't all laugh at once.
  • The Home Secretary, Michael Howard, was preparing to tell twenty people that they would be staying in prison for the rest of their lives, rather than the sentences they were originally given. These people were as yet unidentified, but were presumed to include the most notorious of killers: Myra Hindley, Dennis Nilsen and Donald Neilson among them. Rose West - still no more a suspect in the killings she committed with her husband - would one day join them. No one seriously wanted these particular individuals set free, but there were worries about a politician taking on this kind of power.
  • 28 year old Des Moloney survived falling out of an airplane while it was flying upside down. His ejector seat broke from its mountings, and he tumbled 3,000 feet to the ground near Colchester. Luckily, the ejector seat had a parachute built in. Less luckily, it was ripped and didn't slow him as much as it could have. In a further adjustment to Mr. Moloney's luck, the seat itself took the brunt of the impact when it hit a grass verge outside a Sainsbury's supermarket, smashing into pieces. He was left dazed and bruised, but otherwise fine.
  • A less fortunate air traveller was Frank G. Wells, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, who was travelling in a helicopter on a skiing trip through the Ruby Mountains of Nevada when it crashed, killing him and two others. Clint Eastwood narrowly avoided the crash by heading home an hour earlier. Wells was credited with turning around the fortunes of Walt Disney, which released The Lion King in 1994.
  • The Royal Navy reported that they had discovered that the wreck of the Royal Oak, which was sunk by a u-boat at Scapa Flow in 1939, had been visited by souvenir hunters who used explosives to blast their way inside. They were apparently in search of brasswork and fittings, rather than plundering for treasure. Nevertheless, a debate soon followed about how divers visiting wrecks should be regulated.

Twenty Years Ago Today: Naval Lovers Sentenced for Stealing Ship Funds

HMS Invincible. Who knew that such a fine, upstanding vessel could harbour such criminality? Twenty years ago today, two petty officers from the HMS Invincible were sentenced for stealing £11,303 in cash from the ship and then deserting their posts for a spending spree in Greece and Spain. Petty Officers Sylvia Panter and Ian Luff had fallen in love while serving together, despite the fact that both of them were married to other people.

The two had bonded after Panter was assigned to the Invincible, her first shipboard posting after nine years of service. She was given only three day's notice of her assignment to the post of ward fund cashier, for which she had no training. Luff, who was old enough to have survived the destruction of the HMS Coventry during the 1982 Falklands War, took her under his wing as her 'sea-daddy' (which is actually a time-honoured tradition within the RN - an older sailor mentoring a younger one is something that even Horatio Nelson benefited from).

But Panter still couldn't cope, and the pair grew closer. While the ship was moored at Corfu, she went to pieces after being denied shore leave for turning up late to duty. Eventually, fearing that she would follow through on her threats of suicide, Luff accompanied her as they fled the ship with the contents of the safe, and headed out into Greece and then Spain. But once they'd spent about £2,000 on clothes, drink and hotels, they realised just how much trouble they were in and came to their senses. They gave themselves up in Barcelona, along with the remainder of the cash - though not before selling their story to The Sun for £10,000.

Panter was sentenced to 18 months in a civilian jail, while Luff received 15 months of the same. Both were dismissed from the Navy and lost their good conduct medals. Luff managed to stay out of the papers after that, but Panter was 'uncovered' as a former criminal in 2006, when various newspapers expressed disgust that she was in a senior NHS job at a trust that just happened to be run by her husband. This is, of course, rather shocking, but it's worth remembering that one of the newspapers uncovering this particular scandal was The Sun, which had happily thrown money at Panter twelve years earlier. It's almost as if there wasn't enough hypocrisy to go around...