Revolt over masts puts brake on new police system

Daily Telegraph 6th December 2003

By David Sapsted

Police forces admitted yesterday that a growing rural revolt was threatening the creation of a country-wide communications network for the emergency services.

The actress Sarah Miles has joined the campaign against the Tetra masts

Though the Home Office insists the March 2005 target for the planned national introduction of the MM02 Airwave network would be met, forces said they faced delays.

This is because of mounting opposition from the public and local planning authorities over health fears.

In West Sussex, all the leading landowners have reportedly pledged not to allow the network’s Tetra (terrestrial trunked radio) masts to be erected on their land because of safety concerns.

They include the Duke of Norfolk, Lady Sarah Clutton, at Angerming Park, Lord March, at Goodwood and Lord Cowdray.

“There is a massive rebellion going on throughout the country,” said John O’Brien, a leading campaigner based in Arundel, West Sussex.

“It is not a Nimby issue, it’s a health issue. At the moment, the resistance is very locally based, but it is only a matter of time before it coalesces into a national movement.”

The Oscar-winning actress Sarah Miles, who lives near Midhurst, said: “If we care for our planet and our homes, we have got to make sure that future generations are not poisoned by this system.

“It has taken a long while for people to wake up, but now there is an increasing awareness of the dangers from these masts and a readiness to take action to stop them being built.”

Lord March said: “There is a body of scientific work available now which categorically states that Tetra is potentially dangerous to health.

“Until this question is fully debated and completely resolved, we would not consider allowing the system to be sited anywhere on the Goodwood estate.”

Though the Home Office insists the system is safe, it is spending another £5 million to try to prove it. In a study commissioned from Imperial College, London, researchers are monitoring any adverse health effects on officers at the 26 forces already using it.

Opponents claim the microwave emissions from the 100ft masts, being erected in their thousands around the country, can produce cancer clusters. At best, they interfere with television reception and even car immobilisers.

Campaigners appear to be achieving an increasing number of victories in at least delaying mast erection.

In Hampshire, the introduction of the system has been put on hold after East Hampshire district council rejected proposals from MM02 Airwave to erect masts without planning permission.

Councillors in east Fife recently stalled nine planning applications for six months because of health concerns.

On the Gower peninsula in Wales, campaigners are seeking a judicial review of the whole process of mast erection.

Mr O’Brien added: “Resistance is growing as awareness spreads that these things are not only unsightly but can be very dangerous.”

Police chiefs are anxious to see an integrated Tetra system operating because it offers improved and more secure communications, particularly in remote areas.

“We are disappointed that the roll-out of Airwave is behind schedule,” said Clive Wolfendale, Sussex’s Deputy Chief Constable.

But the Police Federation, while welcoming better communications, has reservations about the health issue.

In Lancashire, the first force to start using Tetra two years ago, a survey by the federation found that almost 180 officers complained of deafness, migraine and nausea after using it for long periods.

There have also been complaints from officers in Yorkshire and the South-West