Easter saw a huge surge in attacks on mobile phone masts as baseless conspiracy theories linking 5G to coronavirus continue to spread.
Networks reported a further 20 cases of suspected arson over the weekend in England, Wales and Scotland. Among the damaged masts was one providing connectivity to the Nightingale Hospital in Birmingham set up to provide urgent treatment to Covid-19 patients.
Two 19-year-old men and an 18-year-old man were arrested on suspicion of arson for a suspected attack on a mast in Dagenham, east London. Meanwhile, West Yorkshire Police are working with the fire service to determine the nature of mast fire in Huddersfield.
Vodafone chief executive Nick Jeffery said it was ‘deeply disappointing’ to learn that arsonists are still attacking the towers. He said: ‘Burning down masts means damaging important national infrastructure. In practice, this means families not being able to say a final goodbye to their loved ones; hard-working doctors, nurses, and police officers not being able to phone their kids, partners or parents for a comforting chat.’
As the Metropolitan Police were called to a mast fire in Dagenham at 1.34am this morning, some evacuations of residential properties were carried out as a precaution.
Four fire engines and around 25 firefighters attended the incident, which is the latest in a spate of suspected arson attacks.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue said a fire in Huddersfield early this morning destroyed communication equipment belonging to three network providers, one of which is used by the emergency services.
The cause of both incidents is not yet known, but network provider EE said they are not 5G masts.
The rate of attacks was still smaller than the weekend before though no assaults on members of staff had been reported over the holiday.
It comes after ITV’s This Morning host Eamonn Holmes appeared to fuel 5G conspiracy theories.
He weighed in after presenter Alice Beer branded the conspiracy theories as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘incredibly stupid’.
Holmes said: ‘I totally agree with everything you are saying but what I don’t accept is mainstream media immediately slapping that down as not true when they don’t know it’s not true.
‘What I don’t accept is mainstream media immediately slapping that down as not true when they don’t know it’s not true.
‘No one should attack or damage anything but it’s easy to say it’s not true because it suits the state narrative.’
Ofcom said it will assess comments made by Holmes, 60, as a ‘priority’, after the watchdog received more than 400 complaints.
Attempting to ‘clarify’ his comments, Holmes said: ‘Every theory relating to such a connection has been proven to be false and we would like to emphasise that.
‘However, many people are rightly concerned and looking for answers and that’s simply what I was trying to do, to impart yesterday.
‘But for the avoidance of any doubt, I want to make it clear there’s no scientific evidence to substantiate any of those 5G theories. I hope that clears that up now.’
It comes after reports 39 engineers from BT were physically or verbally assaulted by suspected 5G conspiracy theorists.
The company’s chief executive spoke out about the problem to try and protect his staff and prevent the ‘misinformation’.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday Philip Jansen said: ‘Everything about this is senseless. There’s no thought for the validity of the theories – many openly contradict themselves; all ignore the very basic principles of science.’
Since the beginning of April, West Midlands Police said it had received eight reports of telecommunications infrastructure being set on fire or otherwise vandalised in its region.
Although one incident is presently unconfirmed, all eight reports remain under investigation.
Despite fact-checking services like Full Fact debunking the conspiracy theories weeks ago, they continue to circulate on social media.
While attacks have been carried out on 5G masts before the coronavirus outbreak fears have been raised that Covid-19 is escalating the problem.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: ‘The claims are complete nonsense. ‘We have been working with social media companies to make sure these entire bogus claims are not circulated.’
Mobile UK, the trade body which represents all network providers, said ‘careless talk could cause untold damage’.
NHS England director Professor Steve Powis previously called theories linking 5G to the spread of Covid-19 the ‘worst kind of fake news’.
A spokesman for Mobile UK, which reported the 20 suspected arson attacks, said: ‘Theories being spread about 5G are baseless and are not grounded in credible scientific theory.
‘Mobile operators are dedicated to keeping the UK connected, and careless talk could cause untold damage.
‘Continuing attacks on mobile infrastructure risks lives and at this challenging time the UK’s critical sectors must be able to focus all their efforts fighting this pandemic.’
The idea behind the claims is that radio waves from the masts weaken the immune system and therefore make it easier to catch the virus.
Dismissing the theories, the World Health Organistion said: ‘Viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks.
‘Covid-19 is spreading in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks. Covid-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks.
‘People can also be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then their eyes, mouth or nose.’
The International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is a German-based scientific body assessing health risks of radio broadcasts.
It has called for new guidelines on 5G but says that even the most high-frequency 5G waves are far below the threshold for anything that would cause us harm.
ICNIRP chairman Dr Eric van Rongen said: ‘We know parts of the community are concerned about the safety of 5G and we hope the updated guidelines will help put people at ease.
‘The guidelines have been developed after a thorough review of all relevant scientific literature, scientific workshops and an extensive public consultation process.
‘They provide protection against all scientifically substantiated adverse health effects due to [electromagnetic field] exposure in the 100 kHz to 300 GHz range.’