David Cameron, the Prime Minister, decided to allow ministers to campaign for either side in the referendum on membership of the European Union, once his negotiations had been concluded on Britain’s relationship with the EU. The government said it was commissioning 13,000 houses to be built by small builders on public land made available with planning permission. Junior doctors decided to go on strike after all, starting with a day next week, after talks between the government and the British Medical Association broke down. In an extraordinarily drawn-out reshuffle, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, replaced Michael Dugher as shadow culture secretary with Maria Eagle, who was replaced at defence by the Trident-hating Emily Thornberry. Pat McFadden was sacked as Europe spokesman. Hilary Benn was left as shadow foreign secretary in an uneasy truce.
It was the turn of north-east Scotland to suffer floods. Abergeldie Castle was left teetering on the edge of the undermined bank of the river Dee. December turned out to be the warmest and wettest for the United Kingdom since suitable records began in 1910. Regulated rail fares rose by 1 per cent, bringing the cost of an annual season ticket from Cheltenham to London to £9,800. BBC websites were brought down by a distributed denial of service attack that was claimed by a group called New World Hacking, which says it opposes Islamic State. HSBC’s online banking failed two days running. Sainsbury’s said it had made a £1 billion bid that was rejected for the Home Retail group, which owns Argos and Homebase. Thousands of bottles of detergent were washed up on Cornish beaches.
Police arrested two men after a shooting in a car park at a McDonald’s in Hull smashed a car’s windows. A man was charged with murder after a fatal stabbing in Holloway, London. Two teenagers in Streatham, London, were injured when pillion riders on four mopeds stabbed them. A father and son were wounded when two men stabbed them many times at Manor House, London. A man in Preston was killed by his dog. Hundreds of people in Penge, London, were evacuated when a gas main broke. In the second Test with South Africa in Cape Town, Ben Stokes scored 200 off 163 balls, an England Test record.
Saudi Arabia beheaded 47 people on the same day, including the man who had shot dead Simon Cumbers, a BBC cameraman, and wounded Frank Gardner, the BBC correspondent, in 2004. But it was the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric, that caused an international crisis. In Tehran, a crowd attacked the Saudi embassy and Saudi Arabia expelled Iranian diplomats. Saudi allies such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain backed it diplomatically. Saudi Arabia severed air links with Iran but said that Iranian pilgrims would still be able to make the hajj. The 991ft Address Downtown hotel in Dubai was engulfed in fire, injuring 15 people.
Islamic State fighters attacked the Libyan oil port of Sidra. The Islamic State released a video showing five men (thought to come from Syria and Libya), who had, it said, spied for Britain, being shot in the head. The video featured an Islamic State man with a British accent calling David Cameron an ‘imbecile’. He was said by observers to be Siddhartha Dhar, from Walthamstow, a Hindu who became a Muslim, changed his name to Abu Rumaysah and fled to Syria in 2014 while on bail, after being arrested on suspicion of encouraging terrorism. A little boy in the video, who said that jihadists would ‘kill the kuffar’, was thought to be Isa, the son of Kadija Dare from Lewisham.
At least 34 bodies were washed ashore on the Turkish coast when the weather allowed a resumption of attempts by migrants to reach Lesbos by boat. Sweden introduced identity checks for travellers from Denmark in an attempt to reduce the number of migrants arriving; Denmark introduced identity checks for travellers from Germany. Women protested in the street after gangs of men described as of Arab or North African appearance assaulted dozens of women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. China criticised North Korea for testing a hydrogen bomb. The Chinese stock market fell by 7 per cent when it opened after the new year; a new regulation was put into effect that temporarily suspends trading. Shares round the world fell in sympathy. Batting for KC Gandhi School, Pranav Dhanawade scored 1,009 not out, beating the previous school record of 628 set by Arthur Collins in 1899. CSH