Monthly Archives: December 2018

Mutant fruit flies help scientists make headway in brain disorder research

Posted on by

The work of geneticist Coral Warr, who works with fruit flies, could have implications for research into neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Photo: Simon Schluter Geneticist Coral Warr with postdoctoral researchers Dr Michelle Henstridge and Dr Travis Johnson. Photo: Simon Schluter

Scientists have discovered how female fruit flies produce mutant embryos without heads or tails, findings which could prove fundamental to human health research.

Outlined in the journal Nature Communications on Wednesday, the work answers long-standing questions in developmental biology and could have implications for research into neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The team at Monash University, led by fruit fly geneticist Coral Warr and structural biologist James Whisstock​, established what was going on at a molecular level when a particular protein was removed from the female fruit fly.

“It sounds gory but if you have a female fruit fly that does not have this protein, then the offspring won’t have a head or a tail and they will never develop one,” Associate Professor Warr said. “They just consist of a torso.”

The protein has been aptly named the “torso-like protein” and has been known about for decades following its discovery as part of Nobel prize-winning research. However its role in embryonic development has remained a mystery.

Using innovative microscopy and imaging techniques the researchers were able to show that the torso-like protein played a key role in the release of a growth factor, which prompted the development of the head and tail in the fruit fly embryo.

By removing the protein in genetically modified fruit flies, the researchers found the cells in the female’s offspring never received the growth factor’s instructions on how they should develop – so they didn’t.

Having established how the protein worked in fruit flies, Associate Professor Warr said the quest to shed light on how the process worked in humans was closer to being solved.

“How they develop and how their brain works is very similar to humans,” she said.

Up to 75 per cent of human genes are shared by the fruit fly – a tiny insect no longer than five millimetres.

The culmination of five years of work, Associate Professor Warr said having discovered the fundamentals behind how cells talk to each other during development, studies using vertebrate species such as zebra fish or mammals such as mice could begin.

Significantly the torso-like protein comes from the same family as a human immune protein called perforin, which is associated with autism, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Autism in particular is thought to be a problem with brain development, so this gives us an idea of where we can look in future studies,” she said.

IAN KIRKWOOD: Same battle world over

Posted on by

Former PM Tony Abbott. READERS may remember a kerfuffle in August when the Abbott government talked about new laws to stop ‘‘vigilante legislation’’ after the Federal Court briefly delayed approval of the Carmichael open-cut coal mine in Queensland.

The ruckus began when the court agreed with environmentalists who said Environment Minister Greg Hunt had not properly considered the impact the mine would have on two threatened species – the yakka skink and the ornamental snake.

Attorney-General George Brandis was ‘‘appalled’’ by the decision, which was ‘‘very damaging to the economy’’. Tony Abbott, still PM at the time, said the ruling was ‘‘tragic’’.

‘‘And if we get to the stage where the rules are such that projects like this can be endlessly frustrated, that’s dangerous for our country and it’s tragic for the wider world,’’ Mr Abbott said.

But Abbott’s tragedy was averted. Hunt looked more closely at the skink and the snake, and the mine was approved with a slew of conditions applied by both the Commonwealth and Queensland governments.

The restrictions that Brandis and Co were calling for would have limited court action to those with a direct connection to the mine – its neighbours, in other words – dramatically reducing the ability of the environment lobby to act as the community’s watchdog.

In a similar light, Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm reacted to a February Four Corners program on animal cruelty with a proposal for ‘‘ag-gag’’ laws aimed at animal rights activists.

Leyonhjelm seems to have taken his cue from the United States, where agribusiness has kept its critics at bay with various ag-gag laws passed in state legislatures.

In North Carolina, hog farmers fighting environmentalists concerned about the effluent from piggeries convinced that state to pass House Bill 405, which from January next year will give business the right to sue people taking photos or videos in ‘‘non-public areas’’.

Taking things one step further, the Wyoming state legislature has passed Senate File 12 to create the crime ‘‘of trespassing to unlawfully collect resource data’’ from ‘‘open land’’.

The Wyoming law follows a long battle between cattle ranchers and an environmental conservation group, the Western Watersheds Project, which works to counter ‘‘the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250million acres [100million hectares] of western public lands’’.

On one reading, the aim of the act is to stop people entering private property or leasehold land to take photographs on that land or on public lands reached after crossing the private property. But critics say the wording makes it illegal to photograph breaches on public land, whether or not private property was crossed to reach it.

Having read the law, it says ‘‘a person is guilty of trespassing to unlawfully collect resource data if he [there is no mention of ‘she’] enters onto open land’’ and does not own the land or have the permission of the owner.

Also, any resource data collected in violation of the law cannot be used in any ‘‘civil, criminal or administrative proceeding’’, and the government reserves the right to ‘‘expunge’’ any such data.

Unlawful collection of resource data – taking a photo of open lands, in other words – is punishable by up to six months jail and a $US5000 ($7020) fine.

Not surprisingly, given the implications, a coalition of conservation, animal welfare and media groups has challenged the Wyoming laws as unconstitutional, filing a lawsuit describing them as a violation of free speech.

Senator Larry Hicks, who backed the laws, said they included photos taken on state land, but not federal land. He compared ‘‘illegal data collection’’ by environmentalists to the National Security Agency secretly accessing people’s private phone records.

Commenting on the challenge to Senate File 12, Hicks said: ‘‘At the end of the day, let’s assume they [the plaintiffs] have a small victory. We’ll tweak the law. They still won’t like it. Anything we do to impede their authority to regulate someone off the land they will not like, and they will litigate, and we should have no expectation other than that.”

Different country, same politics.

Dismissed GM flags legal action

Posted on by

Former general manager Ken Gouldthorp. SACKED general manager Ken Gouldthorp will take legal action over his dismissal by Newcastle council as Department of Local Government officers launch an investigation into his sacking.

Mr Gouldthorp was dumped from his $350,000-a-year job on Tuesday night just two years into a five-year contract, but he confirmed on Wednesday that he had alerted the lawyers and would be pursuing further action.

‘‘So I’m clearly not in a position to comment further,’’ he said.

A spokesperson for Local Government Minister Paul Toole confirmed a departmental investigation was already under way.

“Councils are responsible for the management of the employment relationship with their general managers consistent with the terms of their contract,’’ he said, adding that inquiries surrounding legal aspects of the dumping were taking place.

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes flew out for Geneva late on Wednesday as the fallout from the council’s decision continued.

Cr Nelmes, her Labor colleagues and the council’s two Greens came under heavy fire for the way in which the dismissal occurred, but they made no apologies on Wednesday for the sacking they claimed had to happen because they had lost faith in Mr Gouldthorp’s ability to work with them.

The sacking came on the same day that Cr Nelmes personally handed over a report card on Mr Gouldthorp’s performance – a 6.3 out of 10 which reflects his meeting of all performance criteria. But Cr Nelmes said she and the city demanded better than just a pass mark.

She also refused to elaborate on the reasons for the sacking, although she told 1233 ABC that issues surrounding the art gallery, the city’s parking meter fiasco and a lack of proper communication with councillors were among the reasons.

Greens councillor Therese Doyle said she supported Mr Gouldthorp’s sacking because he had ‘‘failed to carry out his responsibilities as a gatekeeper for councillor proposals through notices of motion in an accountable and responsible way’’.

Other Labor councillors and Green deputy mayor Michael Osborne said Mr Gouldthorp’s position had become untenable because he didn’t share the same vision for the city as the council’s ruling bloc.

Liberal and independent councillors remained livid with the decision, with three calling for Mr Toole to intervene and suspend the council while the investigation was carried out. One went as far as saying the council should sack itself.

Former lord mayor Jeff McCloy, a staunch ally of Mr Gouldthorp, also entered the fray, accusing Labor and the Greens of a ‘‘vindictive attack’’ for a ‘‘purely political purpose’’.

‘‘Ken Gouldthorp was responsible for turning the city’s finances around, not Labor and the Greens who consistently voted against everything he tried to do, ’’ Mr McCloy said.

Business groups also rallied around the sacked former boss, with the Property Council’s Andrew Fletcher writing to Mr Toole and calling on his department to investigate the circumstances surrounding the sacking. Hunter Business Chamber did likewise.

Ironically, Mr Gouldthorp had to cancel a trip to Melbourne on Wednesday where a national symposium on local government leadership had invited him to speak.

Cr Nelmes, meanwhile, flew out to Geneva to jointly sign an agreement with the United Nations training organisation with Newcastle university chief Caroline McMillen. She flew economy class, after her original business class flights were cancelled by Mr Gouldthorp because they fell outside council travel policy.

A typically Newcastle episode

Posted on by

Ken Gouldthorp. THE sacking of Newcastle City Council general manager Ken Gouldthorp seems a disappointingly typical Novocastrian episode.

Mr Gouldthorp, a Queenslander, was appointed to his role during the period when Newcastle businessman Jeff McCloy was lord mayor. Mr McCloy made no secret of his high regard for Mr Gouldthorp, and critics of the former lord mayor frequently expressed the opinion that Mr Gouldthorp and Mr McCloy were closely aligned on matters of council policy and finances.

When Mr McCloy chose to quit as lord mayor after allegations in hearings by the Independent Commission Against Corruption that he made illegal donations to Liberal politicians, the stage was set for a change in the political orientation of Newcastle City Council.

Under its new management, the elected council has seemingly not enjoyed a good relationship with Mr Gouldthorp. This has culminated in an alliance of Labor and Greens councillors combining to sack the general manager.

It doesn’t seem entirely clear why this step was taken. By all accounts recent assessments of Mr Goulthorp’s work performance had appeared favourable, but Greens councillor Therese Doyle remarked after Tuesday’s vote that ‘‘the elected council could not function effectively and be confident that its decisions would be implemented with Mr Gouldthorp remaining in his position of leadership’’.

Some other councillors, it must be noted, strenuously disagreed.

Public reaction to the sacking has been predictably strong and predictably negative. Many people seem to believe – rightly or wrongly – that this may have been a partisan decision with possible personal undertones.

It has been noted that the council has also shifted some of the responsibilities previously assumed by the general manager to the lord mayor, Labor’s Nuatali Nelmes. This includes the area of overseas travel and expenses, a vexed topic since the general manager’s recent cancellation of a business class air ticket to Geneva for the lord mayor.

It doesn’t take much, in Newcastle, for people to start calling for a council to be sacked and replaced by an administrator. Ratepayers with long memories love to reminisce about the period in the 1980s when the city council really was dismissed and its administrator-run weekly meetings lasted minutes instead of acrimonious hours.

Not surprisingly the usual sacking calls are already being made.

Some see this as potentially ominous, given the Coalition state government’s determination to achieve some amalgamations of local government areas across NSW. What better cover for a forced amalgamation, some suggest, than an explosive council feud that has ratepayers baying for blood?

Botham quits Rosellas race

Posted on by


WESTERN Suburbs are searching for a new coach after Dean Botham withdrew from the running amid frustration over the drawn-out reappointment process.

Speculation over Botham’s possible replacement has bubbled away since Wests bombed out in the Newcastle Rugby League preliminary final against Macquarie more than five weeks ago.

This is despite the first-year head coach leading the Rosellas to the minor premiership.

Wests president Wayne Hore said repeatedly that he wanted to retain Botham, but the leagues club board was going through “a process”.

The first-grade coaching position is appointed by the Wests Leagues Club board of directors and not the rugby league club’s committee.

Botham told the Wests rugby league club committee on Monday that he was no longer interested in the role.

Botham is expected to become Kurri Kurri coach Phil Williams’ assistant next season.

Asked if he had become frustrated by Wests’ failure to reappoint him promptly, Botham said: “More or less. I’d had a couple of other offers to help out other blokes in town.

“So I’ve sat back a little while and, in the end, it was time to move on.”

Botham first arrived at Harker Oval as former coach Craig Miller’s assistant when the club won three straight premierships from 2012 to 2014.

When Miller moved to Cessnock this season, Botham was promoted into the top job.

The club won 11 of their 14 round games but became the first minor premiers to miss the grand final since 2003.

Most other clubs would have reappointed him immediately, given the team’s performance, but Botham is not bitter.

“I don’t hold anything against them.

“It’s just a football coaching job. It’s time to move on and try something new.”

Wests vice-president Neil Scarr said the club’s committee were disappointed to lose Botham and denied he had been driven out.

“There is no one in mind at this stage,” Scarr said.

“Dean elected to move on, and it was his own call. Contrary to what you might hear, it was Dean’s call.

“He was not forced out in any shape or form.”

Scarr said the board would begin advertising the coaching position soon and was confident strong candidates would be interested.

Asked if dragging out Botham’s reappointment had proven to be a mistake, Scarr said: “I guess he would be disappointed, but I don’t think that was an issue because the board have a lot to deal with it.

“It’s not just the football club; it’s the leagues club as well. There’s a lot of work.

“I’ve spoken to Dean and he just said he decided to move on.”

Hunter pistol shooter aims for Olympic title

Posted on by

Daniel Repacholi at the Hunter Olympic dinner launch on Wednesday. Picture: Ryan OslandNULKABA shooter Daniel Repacholi has his sights set on the ultimate Olympic farewell, a gold medal at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

A veteran of Athens, Beijing and London, the 33-year-old is preparing for his fourth and final appearance at the world’s biggest sporting event.

And this time he will not be content merely to be involved.

“Making the team is not my aim,” Repacholi told the Newcastle Herald.

“I want to go there and win.

“That’s my thought process. A lot of people are happy just to make the team and go to the Olympics, but then they have nothing after that. But, for me, the goal is to come back with a gold medal.”

Repacholi, who moved to the Hunter Valley from Victoria in 2009 after meeting his future wife and finding work as a mining operator with Rio Tinto, competes in the 10-metre and 50-metre air pistol.

His best performance at three Olympics was at London three years ago, when he finished 28th in the 10m and 19th in the 50m.

Two years later, after pondering retirement, he collected a 10m gold at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and bronze in the 50m.

With the experience he has gained from three Olympics and two Commonwealth Games, Repacholi believes he is at the peak of his powers.

“It’s important not to get too overwhelmed by the whole situation,” he said. “The first Olympics I went to, it was a massive thing and you’re really not ready for it. It’s the biggest sporting event in the world, and you know that, but you can’t understand how big it is until you get there.

“But I’ve been continually getting better at each one, so hopefully this time I’ll be ready to win it.”

Repacholi said he felt capable of competing at “six or seven” Olympics but family commitments had become his priority.

“This will be my last,” he said.

“I’ll go to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018, but I’ll retire after that.

“I want to spend more time with my family. I’ve got two young girls, one is two-and-a-half and the other is three months, so they’ll be at a good age where we can go on holidays together and things like that.

“So they’ll be my focus in future.”

The expense factor was also a consideration.

Repacholi said he tried not to think about how much shooting had cost him over the years, in equipment and days off work, but he had no doubt it would run well into six figures.

“I’m very lucky that I’ve got some generous sponsors behind me,” he said. “I really appreciate their support.”

His qualification hopes for Rio hinge on next month’s Oceania titles and ‘s selection series in February and March.

“At the moment, I’m shooting well,” he said.

“As long as I can keep going with the training I’m doing, I should be fine.”

EXCLUSIVE: Murder arrest over Elizabeth Dixon cold case

Posted on by


Police examine a car at the murder scene in April 1982 and inset, Elizabeth “Betty” Dixon. Main pic: Allan Jolly.

UPDATE:Rodney Lawrence has appeared in Maitland Local Courtcharged with the murder ofElizabeth “Betty” Dixon.

Solicitor Peter Cleaves told the court no bail application would be made today.

Lawrence is set to appear by audio visual link at Newcastle Local Court on Wednesday, November 4.

Magistrate John Chicken refused bail.

SHE was a Northern Irish lass who fell in love with and stayed, living a simple existence as a squash-loving secretary with a happy-go-lucky disposition and a close circle of friends.

But when Elizabeth Dixon’s stabbed body was found slumped across the front seat of her own car in bush near Ashtonfield in 1982, the girl they called Betty would become a talking point for decades.

Det Sgt Frank Tracey in 1982 with a knife similar to one missing from Ms Dixon’s flat and her car key wallet, which is similar to a wallet which was missing.

Despite several leads and huge public interest, detectives could never get close to any suspect and the case became one of the Hunter’s most enduring murder mysteries.

Then on Wednesday, more than 33years after the murder and acting on a fresh piece of evidence, Central Hunter detectives knocked on the door of a house in William Street only a few doors from Stockton Public School, and took a 64-year-old man into custody.

Within hours, he was charged with Ms Dixon’s murder and the cold case that many had predicted would remain unsolved was a step closer to revealing some answers.

The Newcastle Herald understands the breakthrough was not forensically-driven, or a light-bulb moment where new technology was able to point a finger, but fresh information from the public.

It prompted Central Hunter detectives to blow the dust off the files of the mystery and start looking back into what happened in 1982.

It was the Saturday before Easter when Betty Dixon, 31, left the Greenhills Hit-N-Dip Sports Centre where she was a regular squash player and vanished.

She was known to have made a quick visit to some nearby shops and possibly went back to her Metford flat.

The following Monday, a jogger made the discovery, telling investigators that he had seen the car during a run the previous day but decided to have a closer look when he passed it again about 5.45pm the following afternoon. Ms Dixon was slumped across the front seat. An autopsy found she had suffered 27 stab wounds in the attack.

A murder investigation was launched into the 31-year-old’s death and would continue sporadically through to Wednesday’s arrest.

Two years ago, a reward for information was increased from $50,000 to $150,000 although it is understood the public tip-off was given to detectives recently.

Betty Dixon flew from Northern Ireland in 1979 for a year in and fell in love with the place. Before long, she decided it was her new home.

A squash fanatic, she had done some casual work at the Greenhills Hit-n-Dip Sports Centre, worked as a secretary at Cobden Jones Mining in Kurri Kurri and lived alone in a flat in Tennyson Street, Metford.

Hit-N-Dip Sports Centre owner and Maitland City Council deputy mayor Bob Geoghegan remembered on Wednesday of a well-liked Ms Dixon who had once worked part-time at the courts.

‘‘She was always a very happy-go-lucky girl, very popular and loved her squash,’’ Cr Geoghegan said.

‘‘[The arrest] is very good news.’’

When the unsolved homicide squad revealed the increase in the reward to $150,000 in 2013, detectives were quick to point out there was no sinister side to Ms Dixon.

‘‘This was a respectable young woman who held down a full-time job, was active in social settings and in squash tournaments, who enjoyed a good circle of friends and had family here – there was nothing which pointed to her becoming a victim of such a crime,’’ Detective Sergeant Steve Davis told the Newcastle Herald.

The suspect, who was a well-known Maitland sportsman in 1982, was arrested at his home at Stockton and taken to Maitland police station for questioning.

He was charged with murder and refused bail to appear in Raymond Terrace Local Court on Thursday.

Hunter syndicate hope for some Magic in Mackinnon

Posted on by

Jamie Lovett and trainer Andreas Wohler will line up Magic Artist in the Mackinnon Stakes. Picture: Getty ImagesAUSTRALIAN Bloodstock director Jamie Lovett is confident German trainer Andreas Wohler can provide the Midas touch again for the Hunter-based syndicators at the Melbourne Cup carnival when Magic Artist runs in the group 1 Mackinnon Stakes on Saturday at Flemington.

Wohler prepared Protectionist for Melbourne Cup glory last year when n Bloodstock owned half of the German stayer.

The syndicate, headed by Hunter pair Lovett and Luke Murrell, took full ownership of Protectionist after the Cup, but injury has since ended the six-year-old stallion’s campaign for back-to-back victories.

Four-year-old Irish entire Magic Artist will lead n Bloodstock’s charge in Melbourne in their champion’s absence, and Lovett believes he will challenge in a hot Mackinnon field.

Magic Artist is a two-time group 3 winner in Europe and was fifth in the group 1 Grosser Dallmayr-Preis in Germany and Manhattan Handicap in America at his past two starts.

He will make his debut in and under Wohler on Saturday before transferring to Newcastle trainer Kris Lees.

“Andreas has been in the country since the weekend, and he’s very happy with the horse,” Lovett said. “He’s got a soft draw in two, but it’s obviously a strong race, and probably stronger than we ever had envisaged when we started into it.

“It happens every year, though, that the horses out of the Cox Plate back up in this race, but for us it’s a grand final and for them it’s an afterthought.

“We’ve got every box ticked, it’s just if he’s up to that level at weight for age, which is obviously a massive step.

“I think it will run well, and Andreas is very happy with him, and usually when he pulls the trigger they run up to their expectations.”

A strong performance from Magic Artist, with Brenton Avdulla in the saddle on Saturday, could lead to a group 1 campaign in Hong Kong.

If not, the horse will be spelled with a view to the Sydney autumn carnival.

“It’s strong race, but we’ll get a good read on him because if he can run top five in that and we’re happy with them, we’ll go on to Hong Kong after that,” he said. “He won’t get a harder race over 2000 metres anywhere in the world than the one on Saturday, so if he can race well, he’s a good horse, because there’s nowhere to hide there.”

Magic Artist will be n Bloodstock’s only runner on Derby Day and they will have two-year-old filly Pop in a maiden on Melbourne Cup day on Tuesday.

“You’re in a bit of the lap of the gods there,” Lovett said of Pop. “They are all having their first starts, so you don’t know what other stables are going to produce, but she’s shown above-average ability, so I think she’ll run well.”

He was confident of Brook Road’s chances in the group 3 Mumm Stakes (1100m) on Oaks Day next Thursday.

Oriental Lady will contest the group 2 Matriarch Stakes (2000m) on Emirates Day the following Saturday, when she will likely meet Lees star Lucia Valentina. The 2014 Melbourne Cup runner and dual group 1 winner was nominated for the Mackinnon but has been saved for the Matriarch.

Plant future in question: Arrium examines all options

Posted on by

Steve Hamer of Arrium. IRON and steel company Arrium says it cannot rule out mothballing its Whyalla steelworks in South , putting question marks over its rolling mills in Newcastle.

The Newcastle mills on the former BHP site receive all of their feedstock by rail from Whyalla.

’s other steelmaker, Bluescope Steel, this month struck a deal with its unions to cut 500 jobs to keep its Port Kembla steelworks opening, preserving 5000 jobs.

In an announcement on October 1, Arrium unveiled plans to cut $100million in costs over two years from Whyalla, on top of existing plans to cut $60million in costs company-wide.

At the time, Arrium boss Steve Hamer said steel industry conditions were the worst he had seen and that the federal government was failing to protect the domestic industry from steel dumped in at below-cost prices.

Mr Hamer said the company had to consider all of its options.

‘‘We need to look at our business model all the time including imports, blast furnace, electric arc furnaces, do we mothball or run our production down, all those sorts of questions,’’ Mr Hamer said.

‘‘That [mothballing Whyalla and importing raw steel] is a live and active question in our business.’’

n Workers Union Newcastle branch secretary Richard Downie said companies sometimes threatened to shut down plants in the heat of negotiations, but the union was keeping a close eye on things, regardless.

In event of a mothballing, the impact on Newcastle would depend on whether Arrium imported finished steel products that were ready to sell or whether it imported billets to be rolled at Newcastle.

An Arrium spokesman acknowledged Mr Hamer’s comments but said the focus was on cost-cutting, not shutting plants.

Jason Doyle’s broken neck: another break won’t slow down speedway star

Posted on by

Jason Doyle.

THREE years almost to the day after breaking a vertebra in his neck in a crash, Newcastle speedway star Jason Doyle is counting his lucky stars after walking away again with the same injury.

Doyle returned to Newcastle on Wednesday afternoon after gaining a release from Royal Melbourne Hospital following a horror crash in the Speedway Grand Prix in Melbourne on Saturday night.

The 30-year-old fractured his C7 vertebra and punctured a lung in a heavy fall at the first corner of the four-man final at Etihad Stadium in front of more than 26,000 people.

Results on Wednesday morning from an MRI scan of Doyle’s neck convinced doctors the world No. 5 did not need surgery.

Doyle will stay in a neck brace for at least four weeks and see a specialist in six weeks to assess his recovery.

It is familiar territory for Doyle, who fractured the C6 vertebra in his neck when crashing in the Premier League final of 2012 in England when riding for Somerset Rebels.

However, he said Saturday’s fall, after which he was unconscious for more than five minutes on the track, was worse.

“The last time I broke my neck, I didn’t knock myself out for so long,” Doyle said.

“This one, because I don’t remember it, it really hasn’t sunk in, which is a good thing.

“I don’t want to remember it . . . but it’s definitely the worst crash I’ve had.

“Last time, I crashed then went back to the medical room and started coughing up blood, and that’s the only reason I went to hospital and they found the fracture.”

Doyle was thankful for another lucky escape in a sport which has witnessed n Darcy Ward and Russian Vitaly Belousov suffer serious spinal injuries in recent months.

“We all know injuries are part and parcel of motor sport, and just never know what’s going to happen,” Doyle said.

“I got away with this one but I won’t change my lifestyle, I can tell you that.

“I was saying to my family, it could have been one millimetre to the left or right. You never know when you’re time’s up. But you’ve got to think positive about everything in life, and you wouldn’t change it.”

Despite the scare, Doyle had no plans to slow down his speedway ambitions after the most successful season of his career.

“Not at all, I’m all sweet,” he said. “I’m not going to do the n titles.

“I’m just going to spend a few days here with family in Newcastle then head back to England and sort everything out for next year.”

In his first season on the world grand prix circuit, Doyle finished fifth to seal his place on the series for 2016. He also won his first n title and UK Elite League Riders Championship and rode in the top leagues in Poland, Denmark, Sweden and England.

“It was very strenuous, and a big strain on me and my partner, Emily, who didn’t see me much, but it was the best season I’ve had,” he said.

“Then to finish fifth in the world was something I didn’t think I’d get.

“I just wanted to be top eight to qualify for next year, so everything worked out well.

“It was just a shame there was one big crash at the end of the season, but it hasn’t really spoiled it. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Doyle’s helmet was “destroyed” in the crash, which he has watched only once on replay.

“I saw a quick one because they wanted to show me in hospital what actually happened and how I broke my neck, but I don’t really want to watch it,” he said. “I can’t remember going out for the race. I can just remember qualifying for the final, coming back into the pit area and then getting ready.

“I don’t remember from then on until my partner Emily was in the ambulance with me. I lost about 20 minutes of my life.”

“I was certainly very lucky, but I think it just proves that paying a lot of money for good protective equipment, it pays off in the long run.”

1 2 6 7 8 9 10