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Mysterious fire in Primark

Spontaneous Combustion? A careless cigarette? Or something more sinister……


A whodunit by Jamie Wolstenhulme and Charlotte King


(Based on an actual incident last week in the Westgate centre)  

It appeared to be an ordinary afternoon in the Westgate centre: everything in Sports World had 70% off, the Next Clearance Sale once again did a roaring trade in bop costumes and the corridor was full of kids truanting.  But something was amiss.  Without warning, the lives of all those innocent shoppers were suddenly put in grave danger. 

A white shirt on sale in Primark had caught fire. 

Whilst those around him lost their heads, a brave security guard raced over to save the day, throwing the shirt to the ground and stamping out the ferocious blaze.  However, the question on everyone’s lips was, who did it? And why? 

The more gullible among you may assume that this incident ha a simple scientific explanation.  We asked an expert chemist to give his thoughts: 

 “Well, as we all know, the shirts in Primark are made from excellent quality polyester. Polyester is a long chain synthetic fibre comprising of monomer units. This polymeric hydrocarbon chain is a fantastically efficient way of storing energy. All that would be needed to release this energy is the smallest of sparks, say, from a cigarette. If such a spark came in contact with the shirt, the polyester would become a fantastic source of heat and light. It would be in flames in seconds.” 

Very reassuring. But was it possible that the shirts caught fire without the need for such a spark? 

“Ah. Here you are talking about spontaneous combustion.  It is theoretically possible.     If the polyester were to gain enough energy from its surroundings it could reach the required activation energy for ignition and simply burst into flames.  But I would say that this is not very likely.  The thermal energy is much too low to meet the required activation barrier so there is an incredibly low probability of spontaneous combustion.  It was probably a careless cigarette.” 

However, Cherwell24 believes that something more sinister was afoot.  Smoking isn’t even allowed in the Westgate centre.  The idea that it was a careless cigarette is just what the crooks want you to think. So we have compiled a list of alternative explanations.  We leave it to you, dear reader, to decide the truth for yourself. 

1. In the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the controversial invitations to the union debate this week, it is possible that the fire was in fact a pre-meditated political protest.  Early reports that a brown shirt might have been the real target of the conflagration cannot be confirmed or denied. 

2. Another possibility is that an over-zealous fire safety officer might have been assessing the possible risks to public safety in Primark.  In his conscientious attempts to protect the public, he may have unwittingly endangered them.  We can only presume that, whilst the speed that the garment caught fire must have caused him some alarm, the quick thinking of the heroic security guard must surely have reassured him.  With such courageous men on hand we think that Primark is, on balance, a safe place to shop. 

3. Of course, commercial sabotage cannot be ruled out either.  To the delight of students across Oxford, Primark stocks notoriously cheap goods, often undercutting its rivals.  By demonstrating the remarkable capacity of Primark’s shirts to ignite, perhaps another shop was attempting to make us think twice about the quality of its merchandise.  But who would attempt such underhand tactics? Surely not Sports World, purveyor of equally low-priced goods, but operating at a disadvantage being a good 10 yards further into the Westgate Centre. 

4. Reliable sources have also alerted us to another possibility.  On your trips to the shopping Mecca that is the Westgate Centre, you may have noticed a suspicious character lurking around the entrance to Primark.  Barred from actually entering the premises, Curley waits near the entrance, beside the aforementioned shirts, strategically placed to monitor the activities of his shop-assistant girlfriend.  Perhaps, unaware of this observation, Curley’s girlfriend got a little to close to another retail assistant and Curley, in a fit of rage delved into his pocket for his walther PPK replica cigarette lighter.  Blinded by passion Curley may have attempted to sabotage this rendezvous by hurling his cigarette lighter at the oblivious couple.  Being something of a dud shot, this could easily have caught a shirt instead. 

5. But are we all missing something here? Has our attention been unduly captivated by the mystery of the shirt? Perhaps the real cunning lies in the fact that the shirt was nothing more than a distraction.  As it merrily went up in flames, it took the attention of all nearby shoppers and has continued to be the focus of this investigation here. But maybe it was merely a decoy? After all, Thornton’s is directly opposite Primark.  Selling delicious yet extortionately priced chocolates, wouldn’t they be the more likely target of light-fingered dealings? 

So, while we’ve been mulling over the different scenarios that may have caused the conflagration, perhaps the real crooks have been tucking in to their particularly fine selection of Thorntons Continental chocolates.  Or maybe…. it has been us doing both…..  

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