Revellers give a warm welcome to 1996 comes 1996 with a warm embrace

New year round-up: Improved weather gives boost to main events but celebrations are marred by violence and road accidents
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The Independent Online

Thousands of revellers drank and danced their way into the New Year yesterday, warmed by the thaw which finally banished the worst of the Arctic cold.

Although thick fog continued to make the New Year's Day crawl homewards treacherous, the snow which has covered much of the country for days began to clear and Britain returned to near-normal temperatures.

Thousands of people turned out for the 10th annual New Year's Day parade in London where 6,000 musicians from 10 countries made an unsuccessful bid for the world record of largest marching and playing band. "It was still probably the best parade ever," a spokeswoman said.

But madcap antics were not confined to the capital as 130 people took part in the annual 200-yard dash for charity through the estuary mud of the River Blackwater at Maldon, Essex. Swimmers, too, endured a chilly start to the year at South Queensferry, Firth of Forth, and at Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, where the dip dates back to 1910.

For the traditional stroke-of-midnight celebrations, an estimated 70,000 people crammed into Trafalgar Square, London, about 10,000 fewer than last year, while another 20,000 thronged surrounding streets.

Hundreds of police weeded out drunks and confiscated flares and spray cans, although one firework was smuggled through and let off to mark the start of the New Year.

There were 64 arrests and 24 people needed hospital treatment. St John's Ambulance staff dealt with a further 126 people who suffered minor injuries in the square, where Nelson's Column, the lions and the fountains were sealed off.

In Scotland, 300,000 gathered in central Edinburgh for what was billed as Europe's largest event of the night, forming the climax of five days of celebrations to mark the arrival of 1996. A Lothian and Borders police spokesman described it as "good-natured". Twenty people were arrested, all for drink-related offences.

And in Glasgow, 15,000 people packed George's Square. A Strathclyde police spokesman said: "It seems to have been quite quiet. A lot of people didn't come out because of the cold, but we are not aware of any trouble."

However, in Merseyside, an ambulance crew responding to an emergency call in Newton-le-Willows, near St Helens, was attacked by party-goers. A male paramedic was punched in the face and a female crew member pushed to the ground as the vehicle's windows were smashed. The crew were not seriously hurt but David Kenyon, operations director of Mersey Regional Ambulance, said that the incident was "an absolute disgrace".

In Hampshire, more than 100 people were involved in a brawl outside a football club in Farnborough when police tried to arrest two brothers for an assault. Five officers were slightly injured.

A 36-year-old man in Devon was breath-tested positive after a woman died in a car crash two hours into the New Year. The victim was dead on arrival at hospital following the accident at Talaton near Honiton, in which a Ford Escort collided with a wall.

In Barry, South Glamorgan, a 30-year-old local man, Lee Thompson, was killed and a man and a woman injured after a car ploughed into revellers outside the town's Royal Hotel.

A London Weather Centre spokesman said the weather might not improve significantly for a few days but temperatures were returning to a more normal 6C or 7C. In the South-west, they climbed as high as 12C yesterday, although Scotland was still experiencing temperatures just above freezing.

An AA motoring organisation spokesman said that fog in many parts of the country was causing problems.

Weathermen said the cold weather was likely to prevent 1995 becoming the warmest year since records began 336 years ago. Final figures would not be available until later in the week.