Last March, Margaret Simons wrote about the abandoned children of British sex tourists in the Philippines. Brigette Sicat, now 12, was unable to go to school because of ill health, and was living in a leaky shack with a dirt floor and no toilet. Today, thanks partly to the generosity of Guardian readers, Brigette and her family live in decent accommodation, she is a regular attendee at school and her grades are outstanding. The turnaround has been even more dramatic for twins Melanie and Madeline delos Santos – now 19. Reading of Madeline’s ambition to be an architect, a reader is supporting her through university in Angeles City. Human rights law firms in Britain, Griffin Law and Dawson Cornwell, are in the process of confirming the twins’ right to British citizenship; they are also exploring the use of DNA technology to help other children establish parentage, and their rights to child support. Simons and photographer, Dave Tacon plan to visit the children again next May. Their report won a Foreign Press Award last month for best travel and tourism story of the year.
In April, Simon Hattenstone interviewed Freddy McConnell about his quest to conceive and carry his own baby. The film of McConnell’s story, Seahorse, was screened widely. In September, the high court ruled that McConnell cannot be registered as his son’s father. He is appealing the decision and the hearing is expected next year. His young son is thriving.
In May, Jennifer Rankin talked to four British MEPs as they said a long goodbye to the European parliament. They were meant to stand down on 29 March, the original Brexit day. But gridlock at Westminster forced the UK to hold European elections in May. Conservative Daniel Dalton lost his seat, as the Tories were reduced to a historic low of only four MEPs. Ukip’s Mike Hookem was also defeated, as Nigel Farage’s Brexit party crushed its predecessor. Labour’s Linda McAvan retired from frontline politics, as planned, but saw her party lose half its seats. Plaid Cymru’s Jill Evans was the only one who returned to Brussels and Strasbourg.
In the same month, Sophie Hardach reported on a group of West German schoolgirls who in 1984 helped a man escape the German Democratic Republic (GDR) while on a school trip. After the piece was published, Hardach received a stack of previously unseen Stasi files, which she had requested. They were the interrogation transcripts of East Germans who had come into contact with the girls before the escape, such as staff at their hostel and tour guides, and told the East German side of the story.
The GDR government guides were expecting a busload of pensioners, not schoolchildren. They remembered this of the teens: that their rooms were messy, they went out at night, and they openly said that Germany should not be divided. Some illegally swapped money with locals. At the end of the trip, the minders were exhausted, and relieved. Just before the border, they left the bus. One of them had turned to the other and said: “Now, nothing can happen.” They had no idea that the teens had smuggled a man across the border with them.
Also in May, Tom Wall visited Fairbourne in north Wales, which is set to become the first village in the UK to be abandoned this century due to rising sea levels.
A masterplan drawn up by Gwynedd council and the Welsh government was presented to residents in October. It confirms that in 26 years’ time – or sooner if the sea wall is breached – Gwynedd will start to move people out. Yet the residents still do not know where they will go. The plan, which finished its consultation period last month, acknowledges that there is no funding in place to resettle them, or to set up a company to buy their homes at a price that would enable them to move elsewhere. The community council, along with other threatened coastal communities, is hoping to launch an awareness-raising campaign in the new year.
In July, Ed Pilkington interviewed E Jean Carroll, the journalist and advice columnist who alleges she was raped in the mid-90s by Donald Trump. In November, she sued Trump for defamation on the grounds that his denials and depiction of her as a liar had damaged her career and reputation. She marked the occasion with the memorable words: “I am filing this lawsuit for every woman who’s been pinched, prodded, cornered, felt-up, pushed against a wall, grabbed, groped, assaulted, and has spoken up only to be shamed, demeaned, disgraced, passed over for promotion, fired and forgotten.” Trump’s legal team is expected to try to have the lawsuit dismissed.
In August, Danny Polaris talked about his agonising three-week erection on the Experience page. Four months on, he’s free from pain and able to have sex again – something that looked impossible back in the summer. “I have mixed feelings about sharing my story so openly,” he says now. “I’m a bit sick of being known as “that guy”, but I’m thankful I was able to raise awareness of priapism. The last few months have been psychologically tough – although most people’s responses have been overwhelmingly positive, I got a lot of hate online, too. But now I’m back on track, making music, hunting for jobs and making the most out of life.” He’s also newly single, and looking.
The same month, Emine Saner talked to YouTube’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki about how to stem the flow of its extreme content. A study published in October by Penn State University described how its “alt-right” and white nationalist stars have now overtaken the big three cable news channels in the US in terms of viewing figures. Meanwhile, YouTube faces a class action lawsuit by 12 complainants – all video creators – who allege it discriminates against LGBT content, restricting and demonetising their channels.
In September, Amelia Gentleman highlighted the case of Joycelyn John, who moved to the UK legally with her mother in 1963 at the age of four, and spent all her life here. In 2014, the Home Office mistakenly classified her as an illegal immigrant and she lost her job. Officials encouraged her to “self-deport”, aged 57, back to Grenada in 2016, a country she had left half a century earlier. She was only allowed to return to England after the Windrush scandal broke.
Although the government has promised compensation, Joycelyn is still waiting; to her relief, she has found a job as a care assistant in a residential home. She was overwhelmed by the messages of support from Guardian readers after the article was published; she particularly wants to thank an anonymous reader who sent her John Lewis vouchers, which she has begun to spend on making her flat feel more homely, buying curtains and a rug.