Countdown to Christmas: From Volkswagen's emissions scandal and Ed Ball's surprise defeat at the General Election to the Paris terror attacks, these are the most surprising news stories of 2015


Paris suffered not one, but two attacks in less than a year (Source: Getty)

Some news you register with perhaps a shrug of the shoulder, while other stories might prompt an arched eyebrow. There are some events, however, that make you sit up and pay attention. 

This year was not without a few of those key moments - good and bad - that gripped us. Here are the most surprising news stories of 2015. 

Charlie Hebdo attacks

We were just rousing ourselves from our post-Christmas slumber when the news broke that there had been an attack in Paris. News eventually emerged that two gunmen had murdered 12 people, including two police officers, at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, before going on the run. Vigils were held in London and Paris in solidarity with the victims, with thousands of people saying "Je Suis Charlie", in support of free speech. The suspects, sadly along with some hostages, were eventually killed in a police shoot-out, but the attack had repercussions that rumbled on for the rest of the year. 

USC's administration

It was not so much the question of retailer USC going into administration, more the question of how the Sports Direct-owned group could then be bought out by another Sports Direct company. And it wasn't just us who were surprised. Chairman Keith Hellawell was grilled by MPs over the matter (but only because Mike Ashley refused to attend) and chief executive Dave Forsey has since received a criminal charge over the way it was handled. Shareholders appear to be turning against the business but it's not enough to get management worried just yet.

Germanwings crash

In March, we were stunned when a passenger jet crashed in the French Alps, killing 150 people on board. It later turned out that the pilot had intended to crash the plane, prompting major airlines to change cockpit procedures to ensure two crew members are always present. Stocks across the industry were hit hard

Hatton Garden heist

The matter of a jewellery heist taking place in Hatton Garden over the Easter bank holiday was definitely interesting, but it was only when we discovered who had taken part in it that things became truly surprising. The nine men eventually arrested had a combined age of 533 years, with the oldest aged 76. 

General Election: general mayhem

Looking back on it with hindsight, perhaps it wasn't so surprising that the Tories swooped to victory, despite all those polls suggesting Ed Miliband would lead Labour to a place at Number 10.  But there were plenty of shock results, not least Ed Balls' defeat (or as we had it at the time: Balls sacked). The Lib Dems performed appallingly, dropping from 57 seats to just eight, with the likes of Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy. The former leader sadly died less than one month later

Tragic crash at Alton Towers 

In June, just as the UK's tourism season was hotting up, there were nightmare scenes at Alton Towers, where two carriages of The Smiler roller-coaster collided with each other. Four people suffered severe injuries, two of which were life-changing. The theme park was temporarily closed and parent company Merlin Entertainments suffered financially. The incident was later found to have been caused by "human error". 

Osborne's attack on landlords

This news might have grabbed only a minority of the UK population, but for those who are (or were) buy-to-let landlords, George Osborne's July Budget was an unwelcome surprise. Tax relief cuts were met with dismay from the industry, which led to the eye-opening prediction that one in five could be out of business in two years. But what they didn't know then was that there was another nasty announcement coming in the Autumn Statement.

Night Tube nightmare

Who would have thought it would be so difficult to give the London Underground a 24-hour service? In June we excitedly learned where the all-night trains would run, with a start date of 12 September but it became clear that the dispute between unions and TfL meant that was never going to happen. Not only that, but as we revealed, the stand-off meant the Night Tube was unlikely to get going before March next year. But not before the whole of London had to put up with a series of strikes.

Cor, blimey Corbyn

​Having started the campaign as a rank outsider, lefty Islington backbencher Jeremy Corbyn swooped to victory in mid-September. His victory might have been popular with grassroot supporters, but it quickly became apparent that all was not well within the party, as his first day prompted a slew of resignations and confusion over policies. But as the books were opened on how long he'd actually last (100 days and counting), his inability to unite the party became clear. That might give the Tories something to cheer but Labour's more centrist MPs claiming to have been bullied over issues such as the Syria airstrikes vote will no doubt feel less amused. No wonder he left the Christmas party early.

Volkswagen chaos

A significant, but seemingly run-of-the-mill, announcement that Volkswagen would have to recall 500,000 cars in the US quickly snowballed into one of the biggest scandals of the year, if not the decade so far. Eventually it admitted that millions of cars were affected, and a very reluctant chief executive Martin Winterkorn had no choice but to resign amid a declining share price, legal claims and a number of investigations. The story was so big a film is already in the works

Paris is attacked again

It hardly seemed possible, but just months after Charlie Hebdo, Paris was once again left reeling from a terrorist attack. This time the impact was much greater: 130 were left dead, and hundreds injured by the gunmen, who Islamic State claimed were acting on its behalf. Vigils and a one-minute silence were held, but unlike January's attacks, France and her allies went into attack mode. There were hundreds of raids and a Europe-wide manhunt as France stepped up its airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds in Syria and the UK's House of Commons voted to begin action in the country. Even hacktivists Anonymous got involved. Everyone has become a lot more jumpy, with a swathe of alerts in cities across Europe and the US - most of which have turned out to be false alarms. The British public has been issued with not one but two sets of advice for what to do in the event of an attack. But, in the wake of the attacks, many of us opted for the safety of home rather than go out socialising.

John Lewis' Christmas crown stolen

Leaving some of the darker stories of the year, British businesses rolled out their Christmas adverts for our delectation in the run-up to the festive season. Much was expected of John Lewis but for some (including us) the Man on the Moon was a poor follow up to years of pack-leading adverts. Sainsbury's came to the rescue with Mog the Cat, which quickly overtook the department store to become the most-shared, but both offerings were overshadowed by mammoth views for European spots. First up, the Spanish lottery advert, and then a surprise German ad. But cheer up, John Lewis, it could have been worse: you could have gone down the path that Robert Dyas took.