Occupy London activists have lodged a complaint with the U.K. Press Complaints Commission about national newspaper claims that their encampment at London's St Paul's cathedral was unoccupied overnight.
The story, originally broken in the London Daily Telegraph on October 25, purported to prove using high-tech thermal imaging equipment that 90 per cent of tents at the site were left empty overnight.
A video shot by the Telegraph and posted on their website showed row upon row of dark coloured tents outside St Paul's, while those walking around the encampment appeared on camera brightly illuminated.
The story — which was followed up on the front page of the London Times under the headline, “St Paul's 11:12, just one protest tent is occupied” and also in the Daily Express and on the Daily Mail's website — was cited in condemnation of protesters in Parliament. It drew calls from City of London borough councillors that the campsite was a “phantom protest.”
The Guardian has also learned that similar claims of unoccupied tents were used in a City of London document to set out the case for the camp's eviction.
The PCC complaint over accuracy was prompted when activists from the camp decided to hire the exact same thermal camera — the FLIR P60 — from the same company used by the newspapers and repeated the experiment on Thursday night (October 27).
In a series of experiments witnessed by the Guardian, activists discovered that it is virtually impossible to “see” inside tents using the camera as there is not enough of a heat signature which seeps out of the tents for the camera to pick up despite adjusting contrast settings. Even with six people inside a standard two person tent the thermal camera showed a blacked—out shelter until activists re-emerged into the open. They then produced a video which they posted on YouTube.
An activist at the camp, who wanted to be known as James, said that he had hired the camera because he felt the claims were untrue.
“When we pointed the camera at tents we found that people show up very brightly when they're outside but as soon as they get inside the tents, it is as if they disappear. That made us question all of the controversy surrounding the claims that so many protesters are not staying in the camps.
“I wanted to do it [the experiment] to expose the lies around people's commitment to the camp. There were a lot of people putting a lot of time into making this encampment work and they were facing a constant barrage of hostility from certain parts of the media.” He added that they knew it was the same camera as used by the Telegraph because the newspaper footage was still on the camera when they hired it. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011