Telegraph just can’t let the tent-flap go

Alex Hern covers the latest smear-job by the Telegraph against peaceful protest; the message is clear: If you aren’t in bed by midnight, you can’t protest.

The Telegraph is reporting only three tents at the anti-war protest in Parliament Square are occupied.

They claim that footage shot using an infra-red camera shows that sixteen of the tents are empty. They base this claim on the testimony of a “thermal imaging expert”, Richard Wallace, who had to be told by a rival newspaper how to set up his camera properly who was accused by a rival newspaper of setting up his camera wrongly.

Wallace said:

“The row of tents immediately opposite Parliament appear to show no external surface temperature increases, only surface temperatures equilibrated to the natural ambient air temperature. This indicates they have little or no internal sources of heat.

“The second set of tents appear to show only three tents with any sort of an elevated surface temperature.”

Wallace was used to support a previous claim, by the Telegraph and the Times, that only one in ten tents at Occupy London were occupied. That time, both papers tried to give a sheen of authority to the statements, by claiming that they came from the police.

The Telegraph said:

Infra red images taken by a police helicopter during the early hours show that only around 20 of the 200 tents on the encampment actually have people staying in them.

While the Times reported it by saying:

Nine out of ten of the tents outside St Paul’s Cathedral are empty, thermal images gathered from police helicopters suggest.

In actual fact, these claims came from a city councillor, who later retracted them:

A local councillor quoted in the reports said he had been told about the thermal camera by a City of London officer on Monday, but admitted he had not been able to verify the “second-hand” information.

“I simply heard it from talking to an officer on the street,” said Matthew Richardson, councillor for the Coleman Street ward. “The summary was that they have got a helicopter with a thermal camera in and only 10% of the tents are occupied.”

The Telegraph also had a video by Wallace, purporting to show that the tents were indeed empty. This was first demolished by a military scientist, and then by the protesters themselves.

The scientist, quoted by the Guardian, said:

“They cannot make the assumption that they have made from those images. The way they are set up, you wouldn’t be able to tell if there’s anyone in the tent or not, especially if someone is sleeping in an insulated sleeping bag.”

While the protestors produced a wonderful video, with the same camera Wallace uses, demonstrating just how ludicrous the claims were:

Of course, all of this is secondary to the fact that the Telegraph apparently lives in a world in which everyone is snug in bed, pajamas on and a Jeremy Archer novel in their hands, by 10:30. Many people aren’t even home by midnight – does this mean they should be evicted too?

Update: Following a request from Richard Wallace, the first paragraph has been amended; it was meant to refer to the Guardian’s printed claims that the camera was set up wrongly, and no other reading is intended.

See also:

How we sold off the right to protest to the one per centAlex Hern, November 3rd 2011

The movement to evict Occupy London gains paceAlex Hern, October 31st 2011

The privatisation of public space is harming our ability to protestAlex Hern, October 30th 2011

Occupy London needs to catalyse a new LeftBen Mitchell, October 27th 2011

Top five reasons why you can’t protest (according to the right)Alex Hern, October 26th 2011

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