Another 20 suspected arson attacks against phone masts occurred over the Easter weekend amid concern about conspiracy theories linking 5G to coronavirus.
Among them was an incident in Dagenham, where two 19-year-old men and an 18-year-old man were arrested on suspicion of arson, as well as a fire in Huddersfield involving a mast used by emergency services.
The chief executive of Vodafone said one of the sites targeted over the weekend provides mobile connectivity to the Nightingale hospital in Birmingham.
“Burning down masts means damaging important national infrastructure,” explained Nick Jeffery.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Mobile UK, the trade body which represents all network providers, said “careless talk could cause untold damage” following comments about the issue by Eamonn Holmes on Monday’s edition of This Morning.
The Metropolitan Police was called to a telecoms mast fire on Becontree Avenue in Dagenham at 1.34am on Tuesday.
Some evacuations of residential properties were carried out as a precaution, but residents have since been allowed to return to their homes after the fire was extinguished, the Met Police said.
Four fire engines and around 25 firefighters attended the incident, which is the latest in a spate of suspected arson attacks targeting mobile masts around the country.
West Yorkshire Police are also investigating a fire which took place in the early hours of Tuesday involving a phone mast attached to a chimney on Lower Quarry Road in Huddersfield.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said the incident destroyed communications equipment belonging to three mobile network providers, one of which is used by the emergency services.
The cause of both incidents is not yet known, and it is not clear whether they involved 5G masts or older technology.
Worst kind of fake news
However, it comes as theories linking 5G to the spread of Covid-19 have been widely condemned, with the national medical director of NHS England, Professor Steve Powis, calling it 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.”
Ofcom said it will assess comments made by Holmes as a “priority”, after the watchdog received more than 400 complaints.
On Monday, the 60-year-old weighed in on the ITV show after presenter Alice Beer branded the conspiracy theories “ridiculous” and “incredibly stupid”.
He told Beer: “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.
“No-one should attack or damage or do anything like that but it’s very easy to say it is not true because it suits the state narrative.”
The presenter added: “That’s all I would say, as someone with an inquiring mind.”
Holmes attempted to “clarify” his comments on Tuesday, saying: “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.”
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.