Occupy London "empty tents" claim exposed as bogus

Why thermal imaging doesn't prove that the tents were empty.

Several papers splashed earlier this week on thermal imaging pictures allegedly proving that nine in 10 tents at Occupy London are left empty overnight. The claim prompted thoughtful reflections on the nature of "part-time protest" but it has now fallen apart under the slightest scrutiny.

Some of the protesters hired the same camera from the same company (see video above) in order to put the story to the test. What they found immediately was that the heat signature disappears when someone walks behind a tent. Even when no fewer than five protesters climbed into a tent (which is, after all, designed to retain the maximum heat possible) the camera barely registered their presence.

Their conclusions are supported by a military scientist specialising in camouflaging soldiers against thermal imaging technology, who told the Guardian:

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 ... I wanted to set the record straight because that's just rubbish science.


George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.