As of April 21, 59 attacks on telecommunications infrastructure have been reported across the UK, with the attacks believed to have been fuelled by a completely baseless conspiracy theory blaming 5G technology for the spread of Covid-19, amongst all manner of other health issues.
The astonishing figure was revealed by Matt Warman MP in The Telegraph, and the majority of these acts of vandalism have been carried out on mobile phone masts belonging to EE and Vodafone.
EE has told Trusted Reviews that there have been 22 “successful” attacks on its masts, and an additional four attempted attacks, bringing its total to 26. A “very low” number of these were 5G masts. Vodafone has told Trusted Reviews that 24 of its masts have been attacked, and that only five of them were 5G masts.
20 cases were reported over Easter weekend, but since then the rate of attacks has slowed down, according to Mobile UK, the trade association for EE, Vodafone, Three and O2.
“We’re looking at four so far this week,” Gareth Elliott, Mobile UK’s head of policy and communications, told Trusted Reviews.
“That’s not to say it’s stopped. It’s still continuing … it’s not over, but we’re not seeing it at the kind of scale when it started. I think in some ways, the condemnation by the government, local authorities and other bodies is potentially having an impact.”
Elliott said that attacks have been reported nationwide and aren’t confined to any single area, but the areas around Liverpool and Birmingham have the potential to emerge as hotspots.
Incidentally, one of the sites that was targeted over Easter weekend provided connectivity to the Nightingale hospital in Birmingham.
“What these people are doing is they’re attacking the ability of the UK to carry out lockdown, and to ensure that people stay at home, to ensure that emergency services can carry out their work. Let’s not forget, an ambulance that’s going out and about is not connected by a fixed line, it’s connected by mobile,” said Elliott.
“The people who are doing this are impacting their own communities. People are home-schooling and home-working. You need to have connectivity to ensure you can have that lockdown, so people can stay at home and do what they need to do.
“Our industry is diverting resources to fix masts that shouldn’t need fixing, when we’re actually trying to keep the network resilient. And emergency services are having to go to a mast site and deal with that, when you would have hoped they’d keep that resource in order to deal with what is a national crisis.”
To give you a sense of how damaging and dangerous some of these acts of vandalism can be, four fire engines and more than 20 firefighters were sent to deal with one such incident in Dagenham last week, when a phone mast was set alight in the early hours of the morning. Several homes in the area were also evacuated as a precaution.
The West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service had to send six fire engines to deal with a “significant fire” after a separate early-morning phone mast attack in Huddersfield last week, which was said to pose a risk to the occupants of 37 flats. One of the masts that was damaged had provided connectivity to emergency services.
Arrests are being made and the rate of attacks has slowed, but it’s clear that the 5G conspiracy hasn’t gone away yet.
On Bank Holiday Monday, Eamonn Holmes criticised media outlets for “slapping down” the theory on This Morning, a show that regularly exceeds a million viewers on a normal weekday.
“Telecoms services have never been more vital in ensuring that people are able to get the help that they need meaning that any damage to masts is putting lives at risk, so we ask that people report any suspicious activity around them immediately to the police,” Robert Finnegan, the CEO of Three UK, told Trusted Reviews.
“Fears around 5G masts are entirely baseless and we welcome the moves by government to dispel these myths. We thank our engineers for their vital work at this time and are doing everything we can to protect them.”
“These senseless crimes are creating unnecessary risk to human life, both to those that live in the areas being targeted and to the emergency services working to contain the situation,” a spokesperson for EE told Trusted Reviews.
“Every incident is being reported by our teams and we are increasing security at high risk sites. Our guard patrols have been supplied with body cameras and will immediately alert the local police force to any suspicious activity.
“The mobile industry is also working in collaboration with social media platforms to remove harmful content to stop the spread of misinformation and help protect our workers.”