The Spectator

How violent are our jails? | 24 October 2019

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Big Ben protests

An Extinction Rebellion protestor climbed to the top of the Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben, with a bit of help from the scaffolding. Who has achieved this before?

— A Greenpeace protestor scaled the tower in 2004 to protest the Iraq war.

— A protestor was arrested in May last year as he began an ascent. Police did not disclose what he was protesting about.

— Two films have reached a climax with their heroes swinging from the arms of the clock, both successfully preventing the detonation of a bomb. They were Will Hay in My Learned Friend (1943) and Richard Hannay (played by Robert Powell) in The Thirty-Nine Steps (1978).

Shopping for statistics

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have put out dramatically different figures for sales in September.

— According to the BRC, the value of retail sales in September was 1.3% lower, adjusted for inflation, than in the same month last year. The organisation claims to represent 70% of the retail industry.

— Yet according to the ONS the value of sales in September was 3.4% higher than in September last year, with the biggest contributions for the rise coming from food (1.5%), non-store retailing (1.4%) and non-food retail stores (0.2%).

Ooh, aah... ouch

Sainsbury’s announced it would no longer sell fireworks. How dangerous are they?

— In 2014/15, reported St John Ambulance, using statistics from NHS Digital, there were 4,506 A&E fireworks admissions.

— The American Pyrotechnics Association publishes a detailed breakdown for injuries in the US. It found fireworks caused 15,600 fires in 2013, 1,400 of them buildings, 200 cars and the rest bush fires.

74% of those injured were male, and 35% under 15. The group most at risk are children aged five to nine.

6% of injuries are at public displays.

— Most implicated in accidents? The sparkler, accounting for 28% of injuries.

The wealth of two nations

How has the relative wealth of the UK and Ireland changed? GNI per capita ($)



3,170 / 2,070


5,880 / 4,120


15,990 / 10,420


26,620 / 21,340


48,290 / 50,940


41,330 / 59,360

Source: World Bank