Thursday, 24 April 2014

The unlikely debt capital of Britain


Beckford's Tower The 120ft-high Beckford's Tower is a landmark at Lansdown Hill, Bath

Beckford's Tower stands proudly on the hills overlooking the spa city of Bath, a monument to eccentricity and wealth.

The 120ft-tall Neoclassical structure was built in 1827 as a retreat for writer William Beckford, who once said: "I am growing rich, and mean to build towers."

Residents in the area, called Lansdown, may not share his love of the high-rise but many mirror his high finance. This is an affluent area.

So it comes as quite a surprise that this has been named the debt capital of Britain.

The BA1 9 postcode area has the highest level of personal loans per person in Britain. Each owes an average of £2,311, according to the latest data from the British Bankers' Association (BBA).

Are these figures as much of a folly as the local landmark, or does the data actually tell us something of the nature of debt in the current economic climate?
The BA1 9 postcode area covers Lansdown, a suburb of Bath, as well as the nearby villages of Kelston and North Stoke.

Within its boundaries are Lansdown Golf Club. Full annual membership will set you back £784.

It also takes in Bath racecourse, where a number of gamblers may have fallen into debt a little quicker than they ever thought possible.

Yet the local Conservative councillor for the area, Patrick Anketell-Jones, says: "I have had no reports of destitution in the area. I've never considered [debt] as a problem in the ward."

His theory for the BBA's findings is that Lansdown, a Victorian extension of the city of Bath, has a number of large detached homes with huge gardens. It can be fairly easy to borrow from banks when you own such a valuable asset.

Loan application Many people have used personal loans to buy a car

Danny Sacco, manager of Lansdown Mazda - a new and second-hand motor dealership - says plenty of locals are buying cars from him.

He sold 72 new cars last month, a record for March, and describes the market as "buoyant" at present.

Significantly, he adds that 82% of purchases are made on credit. Drivers, he says, are taking advantage of 0% finance deals that mean there is not much point paying the full price up front.

"There was a lot of pent-up demand," he says.

"Cars are a good barometer of the economy. We've got more than just green shoots. People are optimistic."
Complex data
Now the rate of pay increases has caught up with the inflation rate (which charts the rising cost of living) for the first time for years, both men are suggesting that people are more confident to borrow.

Top five personal loan hotspots by postcode

  • BA1 9: Outskirts of Bath
  • EC1V 2: Shoreditch area of London
  • NE66 4: Alnwick area of Northumberland
  • PE7 0: Outskirts of Peterborough
  • TD12 4: Coldstream in the Scottish Borders

A personal loan is an example of this. You need a decent credit rating to get one, and the bank or building society needs to be sure you will be able to pay it back.

These loans are generally not the choice of those stretched to financial breaking point. Credit unions, payday loans or overdrafts are more likely to serve the less wealthy.

Personal loans only give a partial picture of debt. And, in fact, the BBA data only covers 60% of the personal loan market in Britain.

The data is not drawn from every lender, just Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC, RBS, Santander, and Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks.

It is the second time the figures have been published, and although they are becoming more comprehensive, the BBA warns there is a danger of reading too much into figures from each particular area.

"This data is complex and it remains very difficult to draw firm conclusions about lending at a local level," says Richard Woodhouse, the BBA's chief economist.
Signs of recovery?
View from Lansdown Hill Lansdown Hill has magnificent views over the city of Bath

Still, the geographical breakdown of lending is important. This data shows where nearly £30bn of personal loans are owed across the country.

It also gives an area-by-area breakdown of £901bn of outstanding mortgage debt, revealing that 44% of this is owed in London and the South East of England where house prices are the highest and average earnings are the biggest.

For some, increasing debt is a sign of trouble, especially for personal finances. However, it also tends to rise when the economy is stronger.

Over recent years, the BBA's own data shows that repayments to High Street banks of loans and overdrafts have regularly outstripped new borrowing. It was the opposite situation, by far, before the recession. For example, in February 2006, new borrowing outstripped repayments by £1.1bn.

In a more vibrant economy, banks would show greater willingness to lend and individuals greater willingness to take a risk and borrow to buy a car or build a new extension to their home.

So the next time you visit the picturesque city of Bath, and pay £3.20 to take the park-and-ride bus down Lansdown Hill, you can decide whether you are looking at an area gripped in the vice of credit, or one where the residents are feeling bold enough to borrow.

Or perhaps, at a weekend, you might decide to climb the steps of Beckford's Tower to see what Britain's personal loan hotspot looks like, if only to conclude that his wealth bought him the most magnificent views.

BBCtrending: Emiratis say 'London is not safe'


London bus with hashtag superimposed

How quickly can a viral hashtag damage the perception of a city?

London and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are closely connected. Thousands of tourists from the UAE visit the capital each year and the city's biggest football arena is Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. But a violent attack in the city has led thousands of Emiratis to tweet that #london_is_not_safe - threatening to unwind that relationship.

According to reports, on Tuesday seven people wielding hammers, knives and guns broke into an apartment in the city, stealing money, jewellery and credit cards from an Emirati couple. It comes just weeks after a separate incident in which three Emirati sisters were attacked in a luxury hotel - for which UK Ministers have expressed sympathy.

The latest attack has prompted a social media campaign to raise awareness about safety in London. The #london_is_not_safe hashtag was started by Emirati Twitter accounts 20 hours ago and has around 3,500 tweets. "Emiratis living in London are concerned," one of those tweeting, Bader al Kaabi, told BBC Trending. "I feel unsafe because two families have been attacked. And London police do nothing."

Mr al Kaabi, originally from the UAE, says he usually enjoys trips in London but has now tweeted "now No to London & yes to Paris or Rome."

Dubai skyline and hammer

One of the most widely shared images by those tweeting the hashtag shows a Dubai city skyline next to a hammer. The image reads "Dubai's heat is better than London's' hammer."

Other Emiratis said it was unfair to single out London. "That's not right to say #London_is_not_safe, it happens anywhere, even in UAE" tweets Intellectual-QuBaiSi "it's not logical to blame London for what criminals do." Others went further. "#London_is_not_safe is the most absurd trend," tweets Maryam Giggs. "The world is not safe, you always need to watch your back wherever you go." The trend comes on the same day that annual data from hospital A&E departments shows violent crime in England and Wales has continued to fall.

Reporting by David Lewis

Prince's apology for racist term


Prince Harry
Prince Harry has been forced to apologise for his behaviour in the past
Prince Harry has apologised for using offensive language to describe a Pakistani member of his army platoon. The News of the World has published a video diary in which the prince calls one of his then Sandhurst colleagues a "Paki" in his commentary. St James's Palace said he had used the term three years ago as a nickname about a friend and without any malice. The prince filmed parts of the video and in another clip, he is heard calling another cadet a "raghead". The prince had to apologise in 2005 for wearing a swastika armband to a party, which offended many Jewish people.
Bullying and racism are not endemic in the Armed Forces
MOD spokeswoman
The video obtained by the News of the World shows Harry while still an officer cadet at Sandhurst military academy. It was filmed in front of other cadets at an airport departure lounge as they waited for a flight to Cyprus to go on manoeuvres. The newspaper said the prince, who is third in line to the Throne, had called the soldier "our little Paki friend". 'Extremely sorry' Meanwhile, during a faked call to the Queen, as the Commander in Chief of the British Army, the prince says: "Granny I've got to go, send my love to the Corgis and Grandpa." He finishes saying: "I've got to go, got to go, bye. God Save You ... yeah, that's great."
BBC Royal Correspondent Peter Hunt describes the content of the video
A statement from St James's Palace, regarding the term "Paki", said: "Prince Harry fully understands how offensive this term can be, and is extremely sorry for any offence his words might cause. "However, on this occasion three years ago, Prince Harry used the term without any malice and as a nickname about a highly popular member of his platoon. "There is no question that Prince Harry was in any way seeking to insult his friend." The statement continued: "Prince Harry used the term 'raghead' to mean Taleban or Iraqi insurgent." A man told BBC Radio Five Live the cadet concerned was his nephew, Ahmed Raza Khan, from Pakistan, who served with Prince Harry at Sandhurst for one year as a Commonwealth cadet. Iftikhar Raja said his nephew, now a captain in the Pakistani army, would have risen above such terms and had not mentioned the incident to his family. Mr Raja said: "At no time he told us that he was called Paki or he was a good friend of Prince Harry, I mean, although they served together that is true.
Captain Khan's uncle Iftikhar Raja: 'They should have had more respect for each other'
"But I myself am a British subject, I am proud to be British and if someone called me Pakistani I would be proud to be called that, but Paki is definitely a derogatory remark." He added: "We expect better from our Royal Family on whom we spend millions and millions of pounds for training and schooling." Captain Ahmed Raza Khan graduated with Harry from Sandhurst in 2006 receiving a special award from the Queen for being the best overseas officer cadet. 'Disturbing allegations' BBC royal correspondent Daniela Relph said this was an extremely embarrassing episode for the prince and the Royal Family. She said the emergence of the three-year-old video was "unfortunate timing" for Harry, whose image had greatly improved since he served in Afghanistan last year. "That was a real step up for him, a real sense of maturity that people could see," she said. She added that as a member of the Royal Family, Prince Harry was held to a certain standard, and everything he said and did was scrutinised "regardless of whether it was banter among colleagues or something that was being used by lots of other people he was working with". The Army has been trying to recruit soldiers from ethnic minority backgrounds as these are currently under-represented in the services. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said: "Neither the Army nor the Armed Forces tolerates inappropriate behaviour in any shape or form. "The Army takes all allegations of inappropriate behaviour very seriously and all substantive allegations are investigated. "We are not aware of any complaint having been made by the individual. Bullying and racism are not endemic in the Armed Forces." A spokeswoman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: "These appear to be disturbing allegations and we will be asking the MoD to see the evidence, share that evidence with us and their plans for dealing with it. "We will then consider what further action might be necessary."

Ukraine crisis: Mariupol city hall 'liberated'


Masked pro-Russian protesters guard a barricade in front of the city hall in Mariupol, Ukraine, 17 April Masked protesters had been ringing the city hall in Mariupol

The Ukrainian government says it has regained control of the city hall in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, from pro-Russian separatists.

Several people are said to have been hurt during the overnight operation in the city, where three pro-Russian protesters were recently shot dead.

Reports are coming in of a Ukrainian army operation outside the separatist stronghold of Sloviansk.

Separatists are occupying key buildings in at least a dozen eastern towns.

At the scene

The body of Volodymyr Rybak lay in an open coffin in the yard of his house.
Friends and relatives of the murdered town councillor stood nearby listening to an Orthodox Christian priest chanting prayers.
Mr Rybak had been a vocal critic of pro-Russia separatists and a firm supporter of a united Ukraine. It was his abduction and murder which prompted Kiev this week to resume military operations against armed separatists in the east of the country.
The atmosphere here in Horlivka is not only one of shock, but deep pessimism. When he arrived at the funeral service, an official from the local town council told me he feared "something terrible would happen" to Ukraine in the next three weeks.

In another development, the funeral is taking place of a pro-Ukrainian politician, Volodymyr Rybak, who was abducted and killed in the Donetsk region.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has accused Russia of flouting a deal on Ukraine reached in Geneva last week, under which illegal armed groups, including those who have seized public buildings, would return home.

Mr Obama told a news conference in Japan that Moscow had failed to halt actions by militants in the region and warned that the US had further sanctions against Russia "teed up".

A contingent of US troops has begun landing in Poland for military exercises amid concerns among Nato's eastern members about Russian intentions.

Moscow has said it will respond to any attack on its interests in Ukraine.

Unrest began in Ukraine last November over whether the country should look towards Moscow or the West.

US paratroopers arrive in Swidwin, Poland for exercises, 23 April US paratroopers arrived in Poland on Wednesday for exercises

Video grab showing Volodymyr Rybak being manhandled by a masked man outside Horlivka town hall, 17 April Mr Rybak went missing shortly after being manhandled by pro-Russian protesters outside Horlivka town hall

The widow of Volodymyr Rybak, the politician killed in Donetsk region, speaking to media in Donetsk, 23 April Yelena, Rybak's widow, was tearful when she addressed the media on Wednesday
Baseball bats
Talks are reportedly taking place in Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov in the Donetsk region, between the two sides.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced on Thursday that the city hall in Mariupol had been "liberated" overnight without any casualties.

"Civic activists" played a major part in the operation, he said.

President Obama: "We have seen Russia not abide by the spirit or the letter of the agreement in Geneva"

According to the local news website 0629, a group of about 30 unidentified men in their twenties armed with baseball bats stormed the mayor's office between 03:00 (01:00 GMT) and 04:00 on Thursday.

The protesters called the police who reportedly came out and calmed down the opposing sides.

Negotiations are under way at the scene between the separatists, the local pro-Ukrainian authorities and the police, the site says.

While the interior minister said nobody had been hurt in the operation, 0629 reported that five men were injured, though not seriously.

Three pro-Russian protesters were killed when Ukrainian security forces fought off a raid on a base in Mariupol on 17 April.

Mr Avakov also said that Ukrainian troops in Artemivsk, another town in the Donetsk region, had fended off an attempt by dozens of pro-Russian militants to seize weapons from a military unit. One soldier was wounded, he said.

Unverified footage of military helicopters, said to be flying over Artemivsk, was posted by a blogger on YouTube.

A local journalist, Anna Bokovaya, told Russian TV that about 50 people had taken part in the attack on the military unit, which lasted 45 minutes.

The militants began the attack after the soldiers inside rejected a demand to surrender, she said. The town was calm again on Thursday morning, she added.

Bloggers have posted photos of Ukrainian armoured vehicles said to be on the move near Sloviansk on Thursday.

A separatist roadblock near the town is on fire, amid reports that separatists abandoned it when the Ukrainian soldiers approached.

An initial operation against the separatists on 16 April got bogged down in Sloviansk, where Ukrainian soldiers abandoned their troop carriers to protesters.

BBC map

Are you in Mariupol? How has the unrest affected you? You can email us your experiences at, using the subject line 'Ukraine'.

Chinese court releases Japanese cargo ship


The Baosteel Emotion, a 226,434 deadweight-tonne ore carrier owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, is docked at the port of Maji Island, south of Shanghai on 22 April, 2014 The Japanese ship had been held at a Chinese port since Saturday

Related Stories

China has released a Japanese cargo ship it seized over a war-time debt after compensation was paid, a court statement said.

The Shanghai Maritime Court seized the Baosteel Emotion ship, owned by Mitsui OSK Lines, on Saturday.

In a statement published on its microblog, the Supreme Court said the ship's seizure was lifted after the company "fully fulfilled obligations".

The court said Mitsui paid 2.9bn yen ($28mn; £16,680,600) in compensation.

It added that 2.4m yuan ($384,600; £229,100) was paid for court fees.

The company said in a statement that the ship was preparing to leave a Chinese port.

The ship was seized over unpaid compensation for two Chinese ships leased by Daido, a company that was a precursor to Mitsui, in 1936.

The Chinese ships were later used by the Japanese army and sank at sea, Japan's Kyodo news agency said.

The Chinese court ruled in 2007 that Mitsui had to pay compensation. Mitsui appealed against the decision, but it was upheld in 2012.

The seizure came amid severely strained ties between Tokyo and Beijing over historical tensions and a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

Tokyo lodged a diplomatic protest on Tuesday over the seizure, saying it remained "deeply worried".

Japan has always held that the issue of war-related compensation was settled by a 1972 agreement between the two sides when ties were normalised.

The move comes as US President Barack Obama visits Tokyo on an Asian tour of four allies.

Mr Obama is not going to Beijing, but relations with China are expected to dominate his meetings with regional leaders.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

SeaWorld trainer dies in killer whale attack in Orlando


Dawn Brancheau's sister Diane Gross said SeaWorld ''was her dream''
A trainer at the SeaWorld park in Orlando, Florida, has died after being attacked by a killer whale.Witnesses said the orca had jumped and grabbed Dawn Brancheau by the waist from a poolside platform before dragging her underwater.
Guests were evacuated while fire crews tried to rescue the 40-year-old, but they were unable to revive her.
The killer whale, Tilikum, was also reportedly involved in the death of a female trainer in Canada in 1991.
Other orcas were also said to have attacked trainers at SeaWorld parks in 2006 and 2004.
'Shaking her violently'
Chuck Tompkins, SeaWorld parks' head of animal training, was quoted by Reuters news agency saying: "She was rubbing the killer whale's head, and [it] grabbed her and pulled her in."

Eyewitness Wayne Gillespie: 'The tail was thrashing hard'
SeaWorld said an investigation was under way into Wednesday afternoon's death of Ms Brancheau, a trainer with 16 years' experience.
Jim Solomons, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, said early accounts indicated she could have slipped and fallen into the tank.
He said it was too early to tell if she had been attacked by the 12,000lb (5,450kg) orca.
But witnesses told a different story.
Park visitor Victoria Biniak told a local TV channel that the trainer had just finished explaining to the audience what they were about to see.

Keiko the killer whale, star of Free Willy
The killer whale (Orcinus orca) is largest species of dolphin family
Known as orcas, they roam all the oceans, from the Arctic and Antarctic to tropical seas
Can specialise in particular prey: salmon, sea lions, seals, or walruses, even large whales
Considered under threat due to pollution, loss of prey and habitat
Despite its savage reputation, there have been very few documented attacks on humans
After success of 1993 film Free Willy, the movie's star Keiko was freed near his native Iceland
At that point, she said, the whale "took off really fast, and then he came back around to the glass, jumped up, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started shaking her violently. The last thing we saw was her shoe floating."
Audience member Eldon Skaggs told AP news agency the whale had "pulled her under and started swimming around with her".
A male spectator who witnessed the tragedy gave CNN a similar version of events.
Brazilian tourist Joao Lucio DeCosta Sobrinho and his girlfriend were at an underwater viewing area when they saw the whale with the trainer in its mouth.
The entertainment park, known for its killer whale, seal and dolphin displays, was closed after the incident. SeaWorld in San Diego also suspended its killer whale show.
Tilikum is said to have been involved in previous incidents, the BBC's Andy Gallacher reports from Florida.
A SeaWorld spokesman said the orca had been one of three whales blamed for killing a trainer in 1991 after she had fallen in a pool at a marine park in British Columbia, Canada.
Naked man
After the whale - nicknamed Telly - was sold to SeaWorld Orlando it was involved in a second incident when authorities discovered the body of a naked man lying across his back in 1999.
Officials later concluded the man, who had either crept into SeaWorld after closing time or hidden in the park until it closed, probably drowned after suffering hypothermia.

BBC's Andy Gallacher: Reports say this whale has a dubious past
There have been incidents involving other whales at SeaWorld.
In November 2006, a male trainer escaped with a broken foot after he was bitten and held underwater by a female killer whale during a show at SeaWorld's San Diego park.
In 2004, another whale at the company's San Antonio park attempted to bite a trainer, but he too escaped.
Though called a killer whale, the orca (Orcinus orca), is actually the largest member of the oceanic dolphin family.
Animal rights group Peta says it has long been asking SeaWorld to stop taking wild, ocean-going mammals and confining them to an area that, to them, is "the size of a bathtub".

Security 'bad news for sex drive'

Security 'bad news for sex drive'
Couple kissing
Differences in sexual appetite may be driven by evolution
A woman's sex drive begins to plummet once she is in a secure relationship, according to research. Researchers from Germany found that four years into a relationship, less than half of 30-year-old women wanted regular sex. Conversely, the team found a man's libido remained the same regardless of how long he had been in a relationship. Writing in the journal Human Nature, the scientists said the differences resulted from how humans had evolved.
For men, a good reason their sexual motivation to remain constant would be to guard against being cuckolded by another male
Dr Dietrich Klusmann
The researchers from Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital interviewed 530 men and women about their relationships. They found 60% of 30-year-old women wanted sex "often" at the beginning of a relationship, but within four years of the relationship this figure fell to under 50%, and after 20 years it dropped to about 20%. In contrast, they found the proportion of men wanting regular sex remained at between 60-80%, regardless of how long they had been in a relationship. Tenderness The study also revealed tenderness was important for women in a relationship. About 90% of women wanted tenderness, regardless of how long they had been in a relationship, but only 25% of men who had been in a relationship for 10 years said they were still seeking tenderness from their partner. Dr Dietrich Klusmann, lead author of the study and a psychologist from Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital, believed the differences were down to human evolution. He said: "For men, a good reason their sexual motivation to remain constant would be to guard against being cuckolded by another male." But women, he said, have evolved to have a high sex drive when they are initially in a relationship in order to form a "pair bond" with their partner. But, once this bond is sealed a woman's sexual appetite declines, he added. He said animal behaviour studies suggest this could be because females may be diverting their sexual interest towards other men, in order to secure the best combinations of genetic material for their offspring. Or, he said, this could be because limiting sex may boost their partner's interest in it. Professor George Fieldman, an evolutionary psychologist from Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, said: "These findings seem to fit in with anecdotal studies and his explanations seem plausible.
"The rational for why a woman's sex drive declines may be down to supply and demand. If something is in infinite supply, the perceived value would drop."