Racist attack mars the New Year festivities

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The Independent Online

New Year celebrations across Britain passed off peacefully yesterday, although the festivities were marred by a series of deaths around the country and a racist attack that left a man critically ill.

New Year celebrations across Britain passed off peacefully yesterday, although the festivities were marred by a series of deaths around the country and a racist attack that left a man critically ill.

The repeated stabbing of the 38-year-old Algerian man outside a restaurant in Soho, central London, shortly after midnight and the handful of fatal accidents and suspicious deaths marred an otherwise trouble-free night for much of the country.

Despite fears of possible crowd trouble or safety problems caused by the Arctic weather, the mass street parties in Edinburgh, which drew 100,000 revellers, and the unofficial gathering of 70,000 people around Big Ben in central London led to only a handful of arrests for minor offences.

Although party-goers were chilled by sub-zero temperatures and drenched by rain, the unpleasant weather of the weekend slowly subsided yesterday. The annual New Year's Day parade through the West End of London passed off successfully. In Scotland, 70 people braved freezing weather for the annual New Year's Day charity swim through the river Tay at Broughty Ferry, and another 100 plunged into the Firth of Forth at South Queensferry.

There were, however, a series of sobering incidents around Britain and Ireland. A girl aged 15, named last night as Charley Gordon, from Sunbury, Surrey, died when she was electrocuted after stumbling on to the live rail while she and a group of friends walked along tracks near Shepperton station in Surrey.

British Transport Police said 12 other teenagers witnessed the accident, which happened at 10 minutes before midnight on Sunday .

In Co Monaghan, Ireland, the gardai recovered the bodies of two girls, cousins aged 10 and 12, from a frozen lake yesterday morning. The girls are believed to have gone skating on Hollywood Lake on New Year's Eve and fallen through the ice.

Police investigating the stabbing of the Algerian man in Soho appealed for witnesses, including one person thought to have video-taped the incident.

They said the man, accompanied by his wife, had started arguing outside a restaurant with another man, who was black. The assailant allegedly racially abused the victim, and repeatedly stabbed him in the head, neck and chest. The victim was in a critical condition in hospital.

In Bristol, a man aged 22 was arrested after a man aged 33 died from injuries suffered in a brawl at a New Year's Eve party in the city. In London, another man, aged 42, died in hospital from serious head injuries suffered in an apparently unprovoked attack on Boxing Day by a group of men wielding baseball and cricket bats in a pub in Clapton.

Finally, a reveller in Kent endured an undignified but temporary taste of mortality after he fell from a towpath into tidal mud banks on the river Medway in Rochester.

The unnamed man, in his 20s, called police on his mobile phone, who alerted the fire brigade. After he was pulled from the mud, the police refused to allow him into their car because of the state of his clothes. Instead, they slipped him into an empty body bag. It was, they said, easier to clean.

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