TechnologyTelecommunications

Arsonists attack phone mast serving NHS Nightingale hospital

A mobile phone mast serving the emergency NHS Nightingale hospital in Birmingham is one of the latest targeted by arsonists who wrongly believe 5G technology is linked to the spread of coronavirus.

Nick Jeffery, the chief executive of Vodafone UK, revealed that a mast providing connectivity to the hospital was attacked over the weekend – bringing the total to more than 40 nationwide.

“It’s heart-rending enough that families cannot be there at the bedside of loved ones who are critically ill,” said Jeffery, in a post on LinkedIn. “It’s even more upsetting that even the small solace of a phone or video call may now be denied them because of the selfish actions of a few deluded conspiracy theorists.”

In many cases, mobile networks say, the sites attacked do not yet have 5G technology installed.

West Yorkshire police are investigating a fire which took place in the early hours of Tuesday involving a phone mast attached to a residential building in Huddersfield.

In another incident in Dagenham, east London, two 19-year-old men and an 18-year-old man were arrested on suspicion of arson after police were called in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The two incidents involved 10 fire engines.

Burnt mobile phone mast

Three men were arrested after a telecoms mast was attacked in Dagenham, east London, on Tuesday. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Jeffery, who said that 20 of Vodafone’s masts have now been subject to attacks, added: “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.”

Philip Jansen, the chief executive of BT, which owns the mobile operator EE, said that 39 of the company’s engineers had been physically or verbally assaulted by members of the public who wrongly believed 5G triggered coronavirus. Some staff have received death threats, he said.

False theories linking 5G to coronavirus have proliferated rapidly, helped by WhatsApp and Facebook groups, putting the government and mobile companies on the back foot. The situation hasn’t been helped by some high-profile figures fuelling the spread of misinformation to the mainstream, such as the Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden, who tweeted a link to a petition about the theory.

On Tuesday, the media regulator Ofcom launched a probe into comments made by Eamonn Holmes on ITV’s This Morning after receiving hundreds of complaints that he appeared to suggest people should not rush to dismiss a potential link between the pandemic and new technology.

Eamonn Holmes suggests it may ‘suit the state narrative’ to dismiss 5G coronavirus links – video

Like BT’s Jansen, Jeffery appealed for the attacks to stop. “Arsonists, please think about what you are doing and stop,” he said. “Imagine if it were your mum or dad, your gran or grandad in hospital. Imagine not being able to see or hear them one last time. All because you’ve swallowed a dangerous lie. There is absolutely no link between 5G and coronavirus. There is no science-based evidence 5G is harmful to human health.”