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Damaged mobile mast in Birmingham

Mobile mast for NHS Nightingale hospital attacked by Covid-19 conspiracists

Image credit: REUTERS/Carl Recine

20 suspected arson attacks were carried out against phone masts over the Easter weekend, including a mast providing connectivity to the NHS Nightingale hospital in Birmingham.

In early April, conspiracy theorists who believe unfounded theories linking 5G technology to the coronavirus pandemic started to attack mobile masts (including 4G masts) and threaten telecommunications engineers, such as broadband installation engineers.

20 further arson attacks targeting mobile masts were recorded over the four-day Easter weekend, bringing the total number of known attacks to over 40. One of the masts attacked by conspiracy theorists serves the NHS Nightingale hospital – a temporary hospital dedicated to treating Covid-19 patients – in Birmingham.

Two 19-year-old men and an 18-year-old man were arrested on suspicion of arson in connection with a suspected arson attack carried out at night on a mobile mast in Dagenham, East London. Local residents were evacuated as a precaution and allowed to return to their homes after the fire was extinguished by the 25 firefighters attending the attack.

Meanwhile, West Yorkshire Police are working with the local fire service to determine the nature of an apparent arson attack targeting a mobile mast attached to a chimney in Huddersfield. West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said that the fire destroyed equipment belonging to three mobile network providers, one of which is used by the emergency services.

Network provider EE has indicated that these attacks did not target 5G masts.

The attacks on mobile masts and threats to telecommunications engineers - which have allegedly included death threats - have been roundly condemned by the telecoms industry, the government and academics, while online platforms such as YouTube have announced restrictions on content promoting 5G conspiracy theories.

Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery 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.”

BT CEO Philip Jansen said that 39 EE engineers had been physically or verbally assaulted by conspiracy theorists.

A spokesperson for Mobile UK, which reported the 20 additional arson attacks, commented: “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.”

There are reports that arson attacks against mobile towers are now being carried out internationally, with two being reported in Almere, Netherlands.

The coronavirus pandemic - which has led to more than two million confirmed infections and 130,000 confirmed deaths - has been a rich source of conspiracy theories. Some people have claimed that 5G technology is causing or aggravating the pandemic, such as by weakening human immune systems.

Unfounded 5G conspiracy theories have been explicitly or implicitly encouraged by influential figures, including chat show host Eamonn Holmes; television presenter Amanda Holden; singer Anne-Marie; American actors Woody Harrelson and Jack Cusack, and London Assembly member David Kurten. Comments made in ITV’s This Morning by Holmes, which appeared to support unfounded fears about 5G technology, resulted in over 400 complaints being submitted to Ofcom.

There is no evidence to suggest that 5G could be more harmful than ordinary sunlight, with the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection basing its safety guidelines on more than two decades of research which have demonstrated no risk to public health. Covid-19 outbreaks also have no correlation with 5G rollouts, with countries such as Iran struggling with high infection rates despite having no 5G service.

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