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The Manchester Canal Pusher: a real serial killer or just an urban myth?

Since 2006, there have been over eighty ‘accidental’ deaths down Manchester’s canals with no suspect ever being apprehended…

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N Chadwick / Geograph & Diamond Geezer / Flickr

For over a decade, rumours of a serial killer lurking down the canals of Manchester have been rife – however, there’s yet to be any evidence of any such killer.

So why is the Manchester Canal Pusher such a famous phenomenon, and is this so-called killer even real?

Let’s start from the beginning…

Rumours of the ‘Canal Pusher’ were born on January 11th, 2015 when the Daily Star Sunday published a two-page article headlined ‘Manchester’s Killer Canals.’ The article cited sixty-one deaths in the canal way, which stretches for over ten miles through central Manchester, since 2006 – though since then, that number is estimated to have grown drastically to eighty-five, though an exact figure for more recent years is unknown.

The paper labeled the mysterious pusher as a ‘serial slayer’ while pointing out that it’s ‘extremely unlikely such an alarming number of bodies is the result of accidents or suicide.’

Daily Star

A number of the alleged victims have since been identified – in 2011, the body of trainee sports teacher Nathan Tomlinson was discovered in the River Irwell two months after he went missing following a Christmas night out. 

According to Nathan’s mum, he had texted her regularly throughout his evening, saying he had been pacing himself on shandies. And, when his body was found, his coat, wallet, phone and passport were all missing, leading his mum to believe there had been foul play and that his death was not an accident. However, thanks to the lack of evidence, the coroner recorded an open verdict in his case.

A year on from that incident, twenty-one year old student David Plunkett was found dead in Manchester Ship Canal in 2012 after attending a music event in Trafford Park. A coroner ruled his death as an accident, though his parents protested otherwise, saying they had heard ‘screaming and howling’ in their last phone call with him.

GMP insisted that they had ‘no evidence’ of foul play and, similarly, a pathologist said there was ‘absolutely no evidence’ that David had been assaulted and that the most likely cause of death was drowning.

Ian Roberts / Wikimedia Commons

Have there been any witnesses?

While any evidence of this so-called murderer is yet to be unearthed and the countless deaths remain either unaccounted for or labeled as tragic accidents or suicides, there is one man who claims to have escaped with his life from one of the infamous canal attacks.

Speaking anonymously to the BBC, a man known under an alias name as ‘Tom’ recalled the moment a mysterious man ‘swung at him’ as he was cycling home along the Bridgewater Canal one evening in April 2018.

He fell into the icy waters of the canal as a result of the push and, when he tried to pull himself out, the man allegedly kicked his hand away. Tom recalled: “I started to think, ‘This is quite serious. It’s pitch black down there. There’s no lights. You look up, someone catches your eye and then in four seconds you’re in dirty water.”

Eventually, Tom was able to haul himself out of the water. However, following the assault, the city’s police and coroner continued to deny that there was any evidence of a serial attacker. Greater Manchester Police said the ‘speculation’ surrounding the deaths has been made without ‘examination of all the facts and evidence.’ The force said it would reinvestigate if ‘new credible evidence comes to light.’

David Dixon / Geograph

And what have the police had to say on the matter?

To this day, the police have continued to insist that the canal pusher doesn’t exist – Pete Marsh, a Detective Superintendent of GMP, pointed to a review the force had conducted into eighty-five waterway deaths and insisted that ‘most have definitive explanations,’ adding that ‘there’s no evidence to support the theory that a serial killer is at large,’ The Mirror reported in 2018.

And, to support the myth theory further, former Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Blockley said in a Channel 4 documentary: “If a serial killer decided to cause their deaths by pushing them into the water, how could that person guarantee they would die?

“In which case survivors would have come forward. Also none of the individuals have marks [on their bodies] which are consistent with a violent attack which one would expect to see. In the three cases I have looked at I don’t feel there’s a serial killer involved.”

Clive Varley / Flickr

If the notorious Pusher doesn’t exist, what on Earth is going on?

It’s probably worth mentioning that a large proportion of Manchester canal deaths are blamed on drugs and alcohol – hundreds of people make their way home along the narrow pathways of the canals after a heavy night out every year, making the likelihood of people tripping up and falling in all too high.

The risk of waterway deaths in Manchester has also risen dramatically over the last few decades during which the city centre has boomed, with more people living and working there than ever before.

And after all these years, the lack of any clear evidence – or even a suspect, for that matter – suggests that the notorious serial killer doesn’t exist at all. Serial killers are known for making mistakes, slipping up, and eventually giving themselves away. This simply hasn’t happened with the so-called Canal Pusher, suggesting that the myth could sadly be a product of grieving families searching for an explanation for their loved ones’ tragic deaths.

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Feature

Artist creates incredible micro sculpture of Tyson Fury on top of a nail

Dr. Willard Wigan used a nylon cable tie, gold with a broken tip of diamond and his own eyelash as a paintbrush to create the sculpture

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@gypsyking101 / Instagram & Paul Ward Photography

A talented micro artist has created a minuscule sculpture of Tyson Fury in a ‘smallest biggest tribute’ to the boxer following his historic heavyweight championship victory over the weekend.

Dr. Willard Wigan MBE, sixty-four, has produced an impressive catalogue of miniature sculptures throughout his life – we’re talking fourteen camels fitting inside the eye of a needle, kind of miniature –  and considers himself to be ‘officially the greatest micro artist of all time’.

Willard prides himself on making the ‘most wondrous’ microscopic art in history and holds down an impressive fan base which includes Her Majesty the Queen, who invited him to Buckingham Palace after he sculpted her her very own miniature crown. 

But where did this unusual passion for miniature sculpting come from? 

Fundação Dionísio Pinheiro e Alice Cardoso Pinheiro / Facebook

Paul Ward Photography

Willard, who was diagnosed with autism later in life, was excluded from his classes as a result of his learning differences and, after constant humiliation from both his teachers and his peers, closed himself off, fully immersing himself in the world of sculpting.

His first sculpting masterpiece came after an experience with an ants nest in his back garden; using just his dad’s razor blade, a five-year-old Willard sculpted, built and constructed a whole miniature village – complete with tables, chairs and a fully-functioning playground – for ants using only twigs.

Recalling the moment his talent was discovered, Willard told Proper Manchester: “When my mum saw what I’d created, she brought it all into the house and said to me ‘If you make them smaller, your name is going to get bigger.’

“From there, my journey to create the smallest sculptures in the world began and I became possessed with it. My mum kept telling me I was the best, and that encouragement made me truly believe it.”

Paul Ward Photography

Paul Ward Photography

And fast forwarding nearly six decades, Willard has dedicated his entire life to the art of micro sculpting, creating an array of sculptures such as a tiny Mona Lisa and a minuscule London Bridge, some of which have sold for up to £200K.

And most recently, the artist decided to use his talent to pay tribute to a very new victory; Tyson Fury’s Heavyweight Championship victory last weekend. 

A huge boxing fan himself, Willard has long regarded the Wythenshawe-born Tyson to not only be the greatest boxer of all time, but a mental health advocate, an inspiration and a philosopher in his own right. He said: “He’s an example at what can be achieved when you’re going through a dark tunnel. He inspires people to believe in themselves. He’s not just a boxer, he’s a philosopher as well.”

He also sees similarities between himself and the boxer, noting that he and Tyson are both the best at what they do, and both have inspiring stories to tell.

Paul Ward Photography

Using a nylon cable tie, gold with a broken tip of diamond and his own eyelash as a paintbrush, Willard worked on the sculpture – which features a set of green boxing gloves and black shorts emblazoned with ‘Gypsy King’ – for four weeks in his Birmingham workshop.

He eventually titled the piece ‘Hard as Nails’, noting that not only is Tyson hard as nails, but he has ‘nailed mental health, he nailed Deontay Wilder, and he’s also nailing the World Heavyweight Championship, and he will keep that nailed down’.

‘Hard as Nails’ is now on display at the Birmingham Contemporary Art Gallery, though you can view more of Willard’s pieces over on his website.

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Feature

HEROES OF MANCHESTER: Meet the firefighter who ran Manchester Marathon in full kit to raise money for Alzheimer’s UK

A video of Andy crossing the finish line seven hours after the marathon began went viral over the weekend

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Andy Ball / Facebook & JustGiving

A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service firefighter managed to raise thousands of pounds for Alzheimer’s UK after running a marathon in his full fire fighting kit.

The annual Manchester Marathon took place over the weekend and, as is the case every year, thousands of people used the 26.2 mile run as an opportunity to raise money for a charity close to their hearts.

But one ambitious marathon-runner decided to take the challenge to the next level; Andy Ball, a fire fighter for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), and his friend and colleague Ryan Jones ran the marathon in full fire kit – complete with a breathing apparatus cylinder – all in order to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK and Dementia UK.

The organisation is the UK’s leading dementia research charity and funds world-class pioneering scientists to find preventions, treatments and a cure for both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Andy Ball / Facebook

Andy, a dad of two from St. Helens, has run two marathons in fire kit in the past, both to raise money for charity and other good causes. But this year, his motivation was a little closer to the heart; his grandad Derek suffers from dementia and having experienced first-hand the impact the disease can have upon both the individual and their families, Andy wanted to make a difference.

He told Proper Manchester: “I’ve had a lot of personal experience with dementia in my own family – my Grandad Derek suffers from the disease, so I’ve seen first-hand not only the awful effects it has upon the sufferer, but the impact it has on loved ones and relatives, too.”

Andy explained that his decision wasn’t a spur of the moment thing, however; preparation for the marathon was gruelling, with him training for months in advance. After he cut down on beer – arguably the most difficult task of them all – he started going on regular runs with his dogs, adding more weight to his clothing each time to prepare his body for the weight and the heat of his fire kit.

Andy explained: “The oxygen tank is approximately 15kg, and the rest of the kit comes in at around 10kg, so we had a good 30kg of extra weight.”

And in the rare Mancunian sunshine experienced over the weekend, this extra weight proved to be quite the challenge, with Andy recalling how difficult the marathon became as a result of the layers and weight.

He said: “It took us over seven hours to complete the marathon. But the intention for me was to get over that finish line on that same day… It was the hardest marathon I’ve run so far. It was very hard, very challenging. It didn’t help that the sun was out, either.”

Andy also challenged himself to complete the last mile of the marathon using the oxygen from his oxygen tank, known as being ‘on air’ in firefighter speak, something that only made the task all the more gruelling.

However, he noted that the atmosphere throughout the run was ‘brilliant’, saying that the people of Manchester were the ones to get him through. He said: “The atmosphere throughout the whole marathon was brilliant – the people of Manchester were just amazing and that’s what got me through to the very end.”

And, speaking of the moment he was greeted by his wife and children at the finish line – a moment captured on video and viewed by thousands of people across the country – Andy said: “If there had been no one at the finish line, there’d be nothing for me to carry on for. That was everything to me, having my wife and kids waiting for me there. It was just fantastic.”

And perhaps in even more miraculous news, Andy isn’t in any pain from his marathon today and is instead spending his day off ‘having a couple of beers with the dogs’ – I’d say that’s well deserved. 

Across two different GoFundMe pages, Andy and Ryan set a goal of £6,000 – but they have completely smashed that today with a combined sum of £10,372 at the time of writing.

To donate to their cause, visit the Dementia UK GoFundMe and the Alzheimer’s Research UK GoFundMe.

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Feature

FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: Hitler’s ‘obsession’ with the Midland Hotel and his mysterious plan for our city

Did Hitler really love the Midland?

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Rumour has it that Hitler was so enamoured with the beauty of Manchester’s Midland Hotel he sent out orders to avoid damaging the building during World War II.

In fact, claims suggest Hitler planned to set up a base of operations in the city, right in the Midland – the Luftwaffe was ordered to avoid bombing the building in the Blitz because of this.

This legend has been quoted in many pieces of literature about the hotel since, but is there any truth to it?

Credit: Mike Serigrapher / Flickr

To understand where the Midland Hotel comes into the story, we’ve got to take a little trip into Hitler’s plan for Britain in 1940, Operation Sea Lion.

As Hitler had successfully defeated most of Western Europe, his thoughts turned to conquering Britain. Operation Sea Lion was created, with which he essentially hoped to press the British Government into a peace agreement.

He planned to use the force of odds against them, as well as sea and air superiority over the Channel.

Credit: Charles Cundall / Wikipedia

Obviously, neither of these things happened. But what is important about the plan was the sheer efficiency and detail in its creation.

What is missed out in the detail though, is the invasion of the North of the country, as the plan only described how to occupy the South leaving the North in a limbo situation.

Now we’ve got that bit of high school history out of the way, let’s get back to The Midland Hotel.

Credit: Michael Holdsworth / Flickr

The story follows that once the South had been invaded, German forces would rapidly push North across land, air and sea.

They wanted Manchester as a key administrative centre, the Town Hall would be commandeered and The Midland would become a key location for high-ranking Nazi elite – including the Fuhrer himself.

Or so the story goes…

Credit: Imperial War Museums

When you delve into the finer details it becomes apparent the truth behind the rumours are a lot murkier.

Manchester did come pretty high up on the list of places to bomb in the Blitz. This was most probably due to high munitions and war-effort industries around Salford and Trafford.

The Luftwaffe bombings smashed most of Manchester’s famous buildings including the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester Cathedral, Piccadilly Gardens and Free Trade Hall.

What just so happened to be missed out from this list of landmarks is the Town Hall, Central Library and the Midland. This part is probably where the story comes from.

Credit: Julius / Wikimedia

In fact, an anonymous American Intelligence Officer claimed to have uncovered papers indicating Hitler wished to set up his headquarters in the Midland and thus ordered Luftwaffe to avoid the area at all costs.

But how possible was it back then to accurately avoid very specific areas within a bombing process?

To refute the claim even more, those alleged papers have never been seen by anyone but that ‘anonymous tip’.

Credit: United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division

These kinds of myths don’t stop there, Hitler was apparently after the Blackpool tower and very specifically Rochdale Town Hall. 

With hindsight we can see that none of this happened. After the Battle of Britain, Hitler turned his attention to the Russians with Operation Barbarossa – and the rest, as they say, is history. 

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