Caroline Lucas alleges that an undercover police officer planted an incendiary device in Harrow Debenhams

The Green MP has alleged that Bob Lambert, a former undercover officer, "placed the incendiary device in the Debenhams store in Harrow".

 

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, has alleged in a debate in Westminster Hall that Bob Lambert, a former undercover police officer, placed an incendiary device in Harrow Debenhams in 1987 in order to ingratiate himself with a cell of the Animal Liberation Front. He would later provide intelligence leading to the arrest and conviction of two members of that cell, Jeff Shepherd and Andrew Clark.

Lucas told the Hall:

[Bob Lambert] pretended to be a committed environmental and animal rights campaigner between 1984 and 1988. By the summer of 1987, he successfully infiltrated the animal liberation front, also known as the ALF, a group that operated through a tighly organised underground network of small cells of activists, making it difficult to penetrate.

In October 2011, after he was exposed as an undercover officer, Bob Lambert admitted that, and I quote, "in the 1980s I was deployed as an undercover Met Special Branch officer, to indentify and prosecute members of Animal Liberation Front, who were then engaged in incendiary device and explosive device campaigns against targets in the vivisection, meat and fur trades." Lambert has also admitted that part of his mission was to identify and prosecute specific ALF activists.

He says, and again I quote, "I succeeded in my task, and that success included the arrest and imprisonment of Geoff Shepherd and Andrew Clarke." The men he refers to were ALF activists found guilty of planting incendiary devices in Debenhams stores.

Allegations about what kind of role exactly Lambert might have played in their conviction have only recently come to light. In July 1987, three branches of Debenhams, in Luton, Romford and Harrow, were targeted by the ALF in co-ordinated, simultaeous incendiary attacks because the shops were selling fur products. Shepherd and Clarke were tried and found guilty, but the culprit who planted the incendiary device in the Harrow store was never caught. Bob Lambert's exposure as an undercover police officer has prompted Geoff Shepherd to speak out about that Harrow attack. Shepherd alledges that Lambert was the one who planted it, and was involved in the ALF's co-ordinated campaign.

Shepherd has made a statement, which I have seen, and he says, and I quote, "Obviously I was not there when he targeted that store, because we all headed off in our seperate directions. But I was lying in bed that night, and the news came over the World Service that three Debenhams stores had had arson attacks on them, and that included the Harrow store as well. So obviously I straight away knew that Bob had carried out his part of the plan.There's absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Bob Lambert placed the incendiary device in the Debenhams store in Harrow. I specifically remember him giving an explanation to me about how he had been able to place one of the devices in that store but how he had not been able to place the second device."

Now, also in that interview, Shepherd says that two months after the three Debenhams stores were set on fire, he and another person were in his flat making four more firebombs when they were raided by police. Shepherd alledges that the intelligence for the raid was so precise that it is now obvious that, I quote, "it came from Bob Lambert", who knew that the pair were going to be there making another set of incendiary devices. Shepherd was jailed for four years four months, and Clarke for more than three years.

Now for Lambert, it was a case of "job done". In fact, so well had he manipulated the situation that he visited Shepherd in prison to give him support before disappearing abroad. Until recently, Shepherd had had no reason whatsoever to suspect that the man he knew as Bob Robinson, assuming that he'd got away with it, fled the country and built a new life for himself.

So it seemed that planting this third incendiary device was perhaps a move designed to bolster Lambert's credibility and reinforce the impression of a genuine and dedicated activist. He did go on, successfully, to gain the precise intelligence that led to the arrest of Shepherd and Clarke, and without anybody suspecting that the tipoff came from him.

But is that really the way that we want our police officers to behave?

Caroline Lucas

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.