Climate camp double agent: money well spent?

Apparently it cost £2.25m to fund Mark Kennedy’s undercover exploits. Was it really worth it?

Apparently, PC Mark Kennedy's infiltration of the green protest movement, which culminated in the policeman's unmasking by the campaigners who had thought of him as their friend for the best part of the past decade, cost an estimated £2.25m.

This seems like a lot. Even taking into account the fact that he seems to have won the affection of the protesters by bankrolling some of their activities (the way to impress green campaigners, apparently, is to have your own set of wheels) it's hard to imagine how he had to spend this much. Presumably he was just the kind of guy that can't say no.

Eventually he switched sides and declined to give evidence in the trial of the six protesters charged with conspiring to shut down the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station in 2009.

Anxious to be sure that as much money as possible was well and truly wasted – as well as the last nine years of his life – he waited until after the trial had already racked up costs of £400,000 before doing so. That way he made sure that his name was definitively erased from the good books of both parties.

If a gaggle of mild-mannered green campaigners were worth spending £2.25m on, you can only assume that the Met has a snoop in every protest organisation in the country. That Father 4 Justice dressed up as a paunchy batman? Mole. He's probably not even a real dad.

At this very moment, the shadowy top brass of the Taxpayers' Alliance are looking at one another in their volcano lair, trying to figure out whether Kevin who does the accounts really hates regulation as much as he says he does. He talks like a sound free-marketeer, sure, but how can you know for certain? It could just be a ploy. He could be a cop – who doesn't even care about taxes all that much.

Caroline Lucas supported direct action on climate change – does this mean that there are moles in the Green Party?

Anyway, I digress. The important things are: a) how on earth can pretending to be an eco-campaigner justify annual expenses of a quarter of a million quid, and b) what other useful things could the Met be spending all that money on?

Useful things the police could have spent all that money on

  • Employing 50 actual policemen (ie, those not on extended Smoking Dope and Messing About leave) for a year.
  • 2,812 shiny new Tasers – why spend so much money investigating suspicious crusties when you can just keep them on the straight and narrow with the occasional paralysing zap?
  • Setting up two new five-horse mounted units and maintaining them for three years. Police horses are pretty and everyone can enjoy patting their glossy noses and/or running in blind panic as they charge in terrifying unison. A much better use of public money.
  • Keeping a police helicopter in the air for 4,500 hours. Think about all that invaluable surveillance time going to waste! (Incidentally, 4,500 hours is almost as much time as PC Mark Kennedy spent chilling out with a doobie and a nifty hat in nine years of sterling police work.)
  • 30 police dogs for 10 years. The number of police dogs was cut two years ago. The credit crisis was blamed at the time, but that's only because giving the real reason – a chronic drain on funds caused by maintaining the offbeat lifestyles of undercover agents – would have risked blowing Mark Kennedy's cover.
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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.