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Year in review: Death of a national hero and excuses for breaking lockdown rules – the biggest stories of 2021

It’s been another turbulent year as coronavirus and the government’s handling of the pandemic dominated the headlines in 2021 – while the Royal Family once again featured heavily.

Whether it was the emergence of new variants, the vaccine rollout or restrictions on our lives being imposed or lifted, COVID was never far away from the daily news agenda.

Here, Sky News recaps the biggest stories of the year and brings you some of the more light-hearted or unusual moments that you may have missed.

So grab yourself a cup of tea (or pour another festive drink) and take a look back at what was making the news in 2021.

As the UK welcomed in 2021, there were muted celebrations as most of the country was under strict COVID restrictions.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the government to impose a national lockdown, saying the virus was “out of control” as daily cases topped 50,000 for a sixth day in a row.

Most primary schools in England returned for one day as Boris Johnson insisted he had “no doubt” that schools were “safe”.

On the evening of Monday 4 January, however, the prime minister announced England’s third national lockdown.

In a sombre address to the nation, Mr Johnson said hospitals were “under more pressure from COVID than at any time since the start of the pandemic”.

Across the pond, deadly violence flared at the US Capitol as Congress met to certify Joe Biden as America’s 46th president.

Outgoing president Donald Trump – who refused to concede defeat after making unfounded claims of voter fraud – had earlier addressed thousands of his supporters at a rally near the White House.

In shocking scenes, hundreds of rioters stormed the Capitol building, with some waving Confederate flags and looting the offices of politicians.

Mr Trump became the first president in history to be impeached twice after he was accused of inciting an insurrection, with a trial fixed for the following month.

Mr Biden was sworn-in as president on 20 January but Mr Trump chose not to attend his successor’s star-studded inauguration ceremony.

In Indonesia, a passenger jet crashed into the Java Sea minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 62 people on board.

Back in the UK, the vaccine rollout saw the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh have their first doses and the first person received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab – but daily COVID deaths remained high.

The UK recorded 1,820 coronavirus-related deaths on 20 January – the highest daily total since the pandemic began.

As the country’s COVID death toll passed 100,000, the prime minister said he was “deeply sorry for every life that has been lost”.

With concerns about new variants identified in South Africa and Brazil, the UK introduced a travel “red list” of countries – with people arriving from those nations having to spend 10 days in quarantine.

One you may have missed: As police issued fines to COVID rule-breakers, the organisers of a party in Basingstoke had an unusual excuse for officers.

They claimed they were unaware there was pandemic happening because they “never watch the news”.

February began with the loss of a national treasure as Captain Sir Tom Moore died at the age of 100.

The Second World War veteran, who inspired the nation by raising tens of millions of pounds for the NHS, had been admitted to hospital after contracting coronavirus and pneumonia.

Jackie Weaver became an unlikely internet hit after video footage of an ill-tempered parish council meeting went viral.

The clerk’s composure was praised after councillor Aled Brewerton had yelled at her: “Read the standing orders – read them and understand them!”

There was more hilarity on social media after a Zoom call mishap in the US when a lawyer in a virtual court case appeared on screen as a cat.

Donald Trump was found not guilty in his second impeachment trial after the Democrats failed to reach the two-thirds majority they needed to secure a conviction.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced on Valentine’s Day they were expecting a second child.

A day later, the couple revealed they were filming a TV interview with Oprah Winfrey to be aired in March (more on that soon).

Following their move to the US, Prince Harry and Meghan told the Queen they would not be returning as working members of the Royal Family.

Their announcement came two days after the Duke of Edinburgh had been admitted to hospital.

Boris Johnson unveiled his roadmap for lifting lockdown – with an end date of 21 June – as the PM declared: “The end really is in sight.”

Golfer Tiger Woods revealed he was “lucky to be alive” after he was involved in a car crash in which he could have lost a leg.

In Scotland, former first minister Alex Salmond told an inquiry he had “no doubt” his successor Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code over the unlawful investigation of sexual harassment claims against him.

And on the final day of February, it was revealed the COVID “variant of concern” first identified in Brazil had been detected in the UK.

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One you may have missed: A wanted man handed himself in to police so he wouldn’t have to spend more time in lockdown with the people he lived with.

Sussex Police said the man – who was wanted for recall to prison – gave himself up to get some “peace and quiet”.

March started with the government facing a furious backlash over its proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff – branded a “slap in the face” by the Royal College of Nursing.

In a case that shocked the nation, Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, went missing as she walked home in Clapham, south London.

Six days later, serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens was arrested over her disappearance.

After Ms Everard’s remains were discovered in woodland in Kent, Couzens was charged with her kidnap and murder.

The death prompted an outpouring of emotion and a national debate over the safety of women on the UK’s streets.

Hundreds of people gathered at Clapham Common for a vigil – but the event turned ugly as officers clashed with crowds and made several arrests.

With Prince Philip still in hospital, Oprah’s bombshell interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex aired as the couple made a series of explosive claims that rocked the monarchy.

Meghan alleged that “concerns” were raised about baby Archie’s skin colour before he was born, and she said she had suicidal thoughts during her time in the Royal Family.

She also denied reports she made Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, cry ahead of her 2018 wedding – claiming “the reverse happened”.

Harry, meanwhile, claimed Prince Charles stopped taking his calls when the couple left the UK, and he said he had been “trapped” in the royal system – “like the rest of my family”.

Buckingham Palace responded by saying that “whilst some recollections may vary”, the issues raised were taken “very seriously” and would be addressed by the family privately.

Prince William later insisted “we are very much not a racist family”.

The fallout led to the resignation of Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan who stormed off set after a row about the interview with fellow presenter Alex Beresford.

Schools reopened across England on 8 March and the country fell silent on 23 March to mark one year since the first lockdown.

There was chaos in the Suez Canal as a huge cargo ship ran aground and blocked one of the world’s busiest trade routes for six days.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon survived a vote of no confidence in her leadership over her government’s handling of harassment complaints against her predecessor Alex Salmond.

One you may have missed: A man in the US accused his former employer of a “childish” move – after he received his final payment of $915 (£666) in pennies.

Andreas Flaten, from Georgia, discovered the haul of 90,000 coins – which were covered in an oily, greasy substance – at the bottom of his driveway.

The Duke of Edinburgh died at the age of 99 in April.

Prince Philip was married to the Queen for more than 70 years and became the longest-serving consort in British history.

The monarch described her husband’s death as leaving a “huge void in her life”, Prince Andrew revealed.

In a heartbreaking image, the Queen sat alone during the funeral service in order to comply with coronavirus restrictions.

Lockdown rules were eased on 12 April as pubs, hairdressers and non-essential shops reopened in England.

But there were fears that a new variant first identified in India may scupper plans to remove further restrictions, as the first cases in the UK were detected.

The variant had caused COVID cases to surge in India, which became the centre of the global pandemic.

Back in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied saying he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than have another COVID lockdown.

There was fury among football fans as England’s “Big Six” clubs revealed plans to create a breakaway European Super League – before pulling out amid the fierce backlash.

In the US, police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd whose death had sparked worldwide protests against racial injustice.

One you may have missed: In the UK, a rabbit proclaimed to be the world’s biggest was stolen from its home in Worcestershire.

Darius, recognised by Guinness World Records after measuring 4ft 3in (129cm) long, was taken from its enclosure – with a £1,000 reward offered for his safe return.

Dominic Cummings was back in the news in May as he prepared to give evidence to MPs, a year after he defended driving to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight at the height of the first lockdown.

Millions of viewers finally learnt the identity of the mysterious villain in BBC drama Line Of Duty.

Detective Superintendent Ian Buckells, played by Nigel Boyle, was unmasked as corrupt police officer H.

There was success for the Conservatives in a by-election in Hartlepool which had been a Labour constituency since it was created in 1974.

In the Scottish parliament, the SNP ended up one seat short of an overall majority – but the result saw Nicola Sturgeon declare that another independence referendum was “the will of the country”.

Lockdown was eased further in England as the UK announced a travel “green list” of countries that people could visit without needing to self-isolate on their return.

May saw the worst violence between Israeli and Palestinian groups since 2014.

An 11-day conflict killed at least 243 people in Gaza and 12 in Israel before a ceasefire was agreed.

Prince William criticised the BBC after a damning report found Martin Bashir “deceived and induced” Princess Diana’s brother to secure the infamous 1995 Panorama interview with her.

William said the BBC’s failures surrounding the interview “contributed significantly” to his mother’s “fear, paranoia and isolation” – and the episode should never be broadcast again.

The cast of Friends reunited for a special episode to recall their time on the hit US sitcom – the first time they had been together on screen since the finale aired in 2004.

Mr Cummings made explosive claims as he gave evidence to MPs on the government’s early handling of the COVID outbreak.

The prime minister’s former senior adviser alleged that Mr Johnson once thought COVID was a “scare story” like swine flu, and that the PM wanted to be injected with the virus live on TV to show it was not harmful.

Matt Hancock also took much of the flak, as Mr Cummings claimed the then-health secretary should have been fired for “at least 15-20 things” including lying in meetings.

In happier news for the prime minister, he married his partner Carrie Symonds at the end of May.

One you may have missed: Police revealed they had discovered £5m in a London flat because a hapless criminal gang “didn’t know what to do with it”.

It was the Met Police’s largest-ever single seizure of cash after the pandemic had left the gang unable to get rid of the “dirty money”.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced the birth of their second child in June – but a row would soon ignite over the choice of name.

Harry and Meghan’s decision to call their baby daughter Lilibet – the Queen’s family nickname – led to conflicting reports about whether they had asked for the monarch’s permission first.

Cornwall hosted the G7 summit as world leaders met to discuss how to recover from the pandemic.

Away from the serious talks, there were some lighter moments as the PM’s wife Carrie and their young son Wilfred were pictured playing on the beach with the US first lady.

The Euro 2020 football tournament kicked off – a year late due to the pandemic – and almost started in tragedy.

Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch after suffering a cardiac arrest during their opening match against Finland.

His teammates – many of whom were in tears – formed a chain around the 29-year-old as he was resuscitated on the touchline before he was carried off the pitch on a stretcher and taken to hospital.

England manager Gareth Southgate urged fans not to boo players for taking the knee at the Euros after jeers were heard during their warm-up games.

Home Secretary Priti Patel caused controversy after saying taking the knee was “gesture politics”, while Boris Johnson’s spokesman initially refused to condemn fans booing the players – before the PM urged all supporters to cheer on the squad.

England’s roadmap out of lockdown hit the buffers due to the threat posed by the variant first identified in India, now called Delta. The World Health Organisation said COVID strains would be named after Greek letters, rather than the places they were first detected.

Mr Johnson announced a four-week delay to lifting all legal limits on social contact to allow for more people to receive their second dose of the COVID vaccine.

The UK’s longest-known COVID patient died after taking the “very brave decision” to end his treatment, his wife revealed.

Jason Kelk, 49, had spent more than 14 months in intensive care at St James’ Hospital in Leeds after contracting coronavirus in March 2020.

In the US, a catastrophic building collapse in Miami killed 98 people, as it was revealed concerns had been raised about structural problems in the block of flats three years earlier.

Matt Hancock quit as health secretary after he was filmed kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo – and therefore breaking COVID rules.

The married cabinet minister said he had “let people down” and was “very sorry”.

After winning their Euros group – despite a 0-0 draw with Scotland – England beat old rivals Germany 2-0 at Wembley to reach the quarter-finals.

One you may have missed: A lobster diver feared he was going to die after getting caught in a humpback whale’s mouth.

Michael Packard said he was inside the whale’s mouth for 30-40 seconds before he was thrown into the air and landed in the water near the Cape Cod coast in Massachusetts.

England fans really believed football was “coming home” in July as the Three Lions reached their first major final since 1966.

Gareth Southgate’s team hammered Ukraine 4-0 in the Euro 2020 quarter-final, before beating Denmark in extra-time in the semi-final.

But the eagerly-awaited final against Italy was marred by shocking scenes at Wembley as 2,000 ticketless fans stormed the stadium.

Security was overwhelmed, with limited police numbers at the ground, and younger fans were left in tears as “mindless thugs” openly took drugs inside after barging their way in, a review found.

On the pitch, hope turned to heartache after England took an early lead through Luke Shaw before Italy’s Leonardo Bonucci equalised – and the Three Lions lost in the penalty shoot-out.

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed their spot kicks and were subjected to racial abuse online after the game.

After Home Secretary Priti Patel criticised the abuse, England player Tyrone Mings suggested she had “stoked the fire” at the beginning of the tournament by describing taking the knee as “gesture politics”.

In mainland Europe, nearly 200 people died as torrential rain swept across parts of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Matt Hancock’s replacement as health secretary, Sajid Javid, contracted COVID, and there was uproar as Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak tried to avoid having to isolate by taking in a pilot scheme – before a U-turn was quickly announced.

Following a four-week delay, the government went ahead with lifting the remaining COVID restrictions in England on 19 July.

As hundreds of thousands of people a week were being told to isolate during the “pingdemic”, the government announced a list of sectors where fully vaccinated workers may be exempt, including emergency services and essential transport.

The Olympics opened in Japan and there was early success for Team GB as Adam Peaty became the first British swimmer to defend an Olympic title and diver Tom Daley won his first gold at his fourth Games.

US gymnastics star Simone Biles withdrew from several events over concerns about her mental health, before returning to take bronze in the women’s balance beam.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie revealed the couple were expecting their second child after suffering a miscarriage earlier in the year.

One you may have missed: Norway’s beach handball team was fined £1,300 for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms at a European Championship match.

But the team received the backing of pop star Pink who criticised the “very sexist rules” and offered to pay the fines.

Team GB athletes made history at the Tokyo Olympics in August as Britain finished fourth in the medal table.

Cyclist Jason Kenny became Britain’s most successful Olympian ever after taking his medal haul to nine.

It was an historic Games for his wife too as cyclist Laura Kenny became the first British woman to win gold at three consecutive Olympics.

Swimmer Duncan Scott became the first British athlete to win four medals at a single Olympics, while 13-year-old skateboarder Sky Brown became Team GB’s youngest ever medallist with a bronze.

There was heartbreak for Team GB sprinter Zharnel Hughes after he was disqualified from the 100m final for a false start – with Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs winning a shock gold.

In the world of football, Jack Grealish became the most expensive Premier League footballer ever following his £100m transfer from Aston Villa to Manchester City.

Two of the game’s greatest ever players were on the move as Lionel Messi said a tearful goodbye to Barcelona and signed for Paris Saint-Germain, while Cristiano Ronaldo re-joined Manchester United 12 years after leaving for Real Madrid.

As devastating wildfires swept through parts of Italy, Greece and Turkey, the United Nations warned of a “code red for humanity” following a landmark report into climate change.

A lawsuit was filed in the US accusing Prince Andrew of sexually abusing Virginia Giuffre, an alleged victim of Jeffrey Epstein. The royal has always categorically denied any sexual contact or relationship with Ms Giuffre.

Plymouth was the scene of a mass shooting as 22-year-old Jake Davison killed five people with a shotgun before taking his own life.

The victims included his mother Maxine and three-year-old Sophie Martyn and her father Lee.

There was chaos in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops as the Taliban seized almost all of the country in just over a week.

Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani fled the country and there were desperate scenes at Kabul Airport as people clung to planes while they were taking off in a bid to escape.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was heavily criticised for staying on holiday abroad as the situation was unravelling.

At least 73 people were killed – including 13 US service personnel – after two blasts and a gunfight outside Kabul Airport, with Islamic State affiliate, ISIS-K, claiming responsibility.

The world of entertainment mourned the loss of comedian Sean Lock, who died from cancer aged 58, and Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts who passed away at the age of 80.

Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc in the US, bringing 150mph winds and record-breaking rainfall to the country’s northeastern states.

And Geronimo the alpaca was culled by government officials after owner Helen Macdonald lost a lengthy legal battle to stop the killing.

One you may have missed: Cabinet minister Michael Gove raised eyebrows after he was filmed busting some dance moves in the early hours at a nightclub in Aberdeen.

Dressed in a suit with no tie and appearing to be on his own, the newly-single Tory MP was spotted on the dancefloor at a techno and jungle night.

Swedish pop icons Abba delighted fans as they announced their return at the start of September, with a new album and a virtual stage show planned.

There was also sad news from the world of music as Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding died aged just 39 following her breast cancer diagnosis.

Teenager Emma Raducanu became the first British woman in 44 years to win a Grand Slam singles title after her shock victory at the US Open.

It was an extraordinary achievement for the 18-year-old who came into the tournament ranked 150th in the world.

But there was disappointment for boxer Anthony Joshua whose reign as world heavyweight champion was ended by Oleksandr Usyk.

Protesters from climate activist group Insulate Britain blocked traffic in a series of demonstrations, provoking anger from motorists.

A shortage of HGV drivers caused widespread disruption in the UK, with supermarket chains and restaurants, including McDonald’s, KFC and Nando’s, running out of key products.

There was panic buying at petrol stations across the UK as concerns over supplies spread, although Downing Street insisted there were “ample fuel stocks”.

The PM unveiled his COVID winter plan to avoid another lockdown, as well as “Plan B” – involving mandatory face masks, vaccine passports and work from home orders – if the NHS faced “unsustainable pressure”.

Thousands of people had to flee the Spanish island of La Palma after a volcano eruption and in the US, musician R Kelly was found guilty of racketeering and trafficking in his sex abuse trial.

Daniel Craig’s long-awaited final outing as James Bond in No Time To Die was released, 18 months after originally planned due to the pandemic.

At the Old Bailey, Sarah Everard’s killer Wayne Couzens was sentenced to a whole-life prison term for her kidnap, rape and murder as horrific details of his crimes emerged.

The Met Police officer, who had admitted his offences at earlier hearings, had abducted Ms Everard under the guise of a fake arrest before strangling her with his police belt and burning her body.

Ms Everard’s father Jeremy demanded Couzens look at him during the sentencing hearing as he told the killer: “I can never forgive you for what you have done.”

One you may have missed: Rapper Nicki Minaj received a ticking off from Professor Chris Whitty after she shared an unsubstantiated story about a man who had a COVID vaccine and then allegedly became impotent.

After England’s chief medical officer condemned those “pedalling untruths”, Minaj tweeted a clip of him and wrote: “I love him even (though) I guess this was a diss?”

In early October, billions of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp users were hit by an outage that lasted nearly six hours, prompting a series of memes poking fun at the situation.

Boxer Tyson Fury retained his WBC heavyweight title after knocking out Deontay Wilder in a spellbinding contest in Las Vegas.

A damning report by MPs found that thousands of lives were lost in the UK due to delays and mistakes made at the start of the COVID pandemic, by both ministers and their scientific advisers.

Conservative MP Sir David Amess died after being stabbed as he attended a constituency surgery in Essex.

Tributes poured in for the long-serving member of parliament, with the prime minister describing Sir David as “one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics”.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was charged with his murder and preparing acts of terrorism.

Star Trek actor William Shatner become the oldest person to reach space after the 90-year-old blasted off on a rocket owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

The Queen spent a night in hospital for “preliminary investigations” after cancelling a visit to Northern Ireland, with doctors advising her to rest.

In an incident that rocked Hollywood, actor Alec Baldwin accidentally shot dead cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust.

Director Joel Souza was also injured when the prop gun that Baldwin was holding went off during filming in New Mexico.

Baldwin insisted he never pulled the trigger and it went off when he released the hammer – but there were claims of safety issues on the set in the days leading up to the tragedy.

One you may have missed: Andy Murray revealed he was in the “bad books” with wife Kim after his tennis shoes were stolen – with his wedding ring attached to them.

Luckily for the tennis star the items were returned after his social media appeal to find them.

World leaders gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit and reached an agreement after days of talks – but a late disagreement over the wording on fossil fuels saw pledges on coal watered down.

Boris Johnson’s government was accused of “corruption” after it sought to overhaul parliamentary standards rules in an alleged effort to protect MP Owen Paterson who had broken lobbying rules.

In the face of a huge outcry, the government performed a U-turn and Mr Paterson resigned, saying he was escaping “the cruel world of politics”.

In the US, 10 people were killed in a crush at a music festival in Houston as rapper Travis Scott performed.

There was joy for Britney Spears and her loyal fans as the controversial conservatorship that controlled the pop star’s personal and financial affairs finally ended after 13 years.

The Queen missed a Remembrance Sunday service after spraining her back and that day, Liverpool was the scene of a terror attack after a car exploded outside a hospital.

Suspected terrorist Emad al Swealmeen was killed when a homemade bomb detonated inside a taxi, with driver David Perry saying it was a “miracle” he survived.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club faced accusations of racism from former captain Azeem Rafiq who gave powerful evidence to MPs about his time as a player.

Rafiq himself later apologised after it was revealed he sent antisemitic messages as a 19-year-old.

In politics, the prime minister was ridiculed after a bizarre speech to business leaders in which he praised Peppa Pig World, made car engine noises, and compared his 10-point plan for a green economy to the biblical 10 commandments.

Manchester United sacked manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after a dismal run of results which included a humiliating 5-0 defeat to arch rivals Liverpool.

There was a devastating tragedy in the English Channel as 27 people died trying to make the crossing to the UK when a boat capsized.

A new COVID variant was identified in South Africa – initially described by UK experts as the “worst one we’ve seen so far” – causing the government to bring in travel restrictions for southern African countries.

The UK’s first cases of the variant – named Omicron – were detected, with the PM announcing that face coverings would again be made compulsory in shops and on public transport in England.

Storm Arwen battered the North East of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with gusts of almost 100mph hitting some areas and thousands of homes were left without power for more than a week.

The trial of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell – the ex-girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein – began in New York, with prosecutors alleging that she targeted young girls and manipulated them before “serving them up for sexual abuse”.

One you may have missed: A terminally ill man who wanted to fulfil one of his bucket list wishes by mooning at a speed camera found himself being wrestled to the ground in his garden by six police officers.

Footage showed 55-year-old Darrell Meekcom being tackled after officers failed to see the funny side of his cheeky stunt in Kidderminster.

As December started, Downing Street rejected claims that Boris Johnson broke coronavirus rules with parties at Number 10 last Christmas.

But after a week of denials, footage emerged of Number 10 officials joking and laughing about a festive gathering in December 2020.

The prime minister’s adviser Allegra Stratton, who appeared in the video, resigned and apologised in a tearful statement outside her home.

More images emerged showing the PM reading out questions for an online quiz last December where groups were said to have broken rules on gatherings, and an apparent Christmas party held at the Conservative Party’s headquarters.

An investigation was launched by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case into a number of alleged events – but he was forced to leave the inquiry after it emerged he was aware of a party in his own office in December last year.

The Metropolitan Police said it would contact two people who attended the gathering at the Tory Party HQ but it would not investigate allegations of a party at Downing Street due to an “absence of evidence”.

Piling more pressure on the prime minister, the Conservatives lost the North Shropshire by-election as the Liberal Democrats overturned a huge Tory majority.

And in more damaging revelations, a photo emerged showing Mr Johnson, with his partner Carrie and their then-newborn son, in the garden of 10 Downing Street with 17 colleagues drinking wine and eating cheese in May 2020 – at the height of the first lockdown when social gatherings were banned.

Mr Johnson claimed the picture showed a work meeting and deputy PM Dominic Raab argued that people were “all in suits or predominantly formal attire” so it did not break COVID rules.

But it prompted public fury as Britons recalled their memories of that time when limits were imposed on numbers at funerals, and people were only allowed to meet one other person from outside their household outdoors.

There was further bad news for Mr Johnson in December as the Tory Party was fined £17,800 for improperly declaring donations used for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.

An investigation into the matter contradicted Mr Johnson’s claim that he knew nothing about how the works were being funded.

In happier news for the PM, he and wife Carrie celebrated the birth of their daughter – named Romy Iris Charlotte Johnson.

With cases of the Omicron variant of COVID spreading, the government announced “Plan B” restrictions would come into force, meaning a work from home advisory, face masks to be worn in more indoor settings and COVID passes required for certain venues.

In an address to the nation, Mr Johnson warned of a “tidal wave of Omicron coming” and said everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to “get their booster” vaccine dose before the New Year.

But as daily COVID cases soared to record highs in December, England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, urged people to “prioritise” social interactions that “really matter to them”.

The government confirmed no further restrictions would be imposed before Christmas, but there were reports that officials were drawing up plans for two weeks of “circuit breaker” measures after Christmas – which would include a ban on indoor mixing,

Away from the pandemic, Storm Barra battered the UK in December with 80mph winds, rain and snow, leaving at least 59,000 people without power and areas flooded.

In a case that shocked the country, a stepmother and father were jailed for abusing and killing his six-year-old son Arthur Labinjo-Hughes in Solihull.

Horrific details of the cruelty inflicted by the couple emerged as Emma Tustin was found guilty of Arthur’s murder and Thomas Hughes was convicted of his manslaughter.

Another shocking case followed in West Yorkshire after a mother and her partner were found guilty over the death of 16-month-old Star Hobson.

Prosecutors said the toddler was “repeatedly physically assaulted over the weeks and months before her death”.

One you may have missed: A sparse-looking Christmas tree in London’s Trafalgar Square was roundly mocked after it was branded “half dead” and “spindly” by passers-by.

The tree is an annual gift to London from the people of Norway, which recognises Britain’s support during the Second World War.

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