TMN understands that of the four sites Vodafone has confirmed have come under recent attack, one was in Bushey, Hertforshire, and the other in Thurrock, Essex. A Vodafone source said that at one of the sites a petrol bomb was thrown at the mast in question. The same source also said that installation teams had been “threatened” at other sites.
TMN decided not to share the information last week to avoid giving publicity to the attacks and potentially causing copy-cat attacks. But a Vodafone official since told the BBC over the weekend that it had suffered attacks at four sites, either ones it operates itself or shares with Telefonica UK (O2), and the reporting of a spate of attacks on mobile sites has gone mainstream over the weekend on other outlets.
Late last week a video appeared on social media of a mast in Birmingham being attended by fire crews as it was alight. As of Friday afternoon, West Midlands police told TMN that the cause of the fire had not yet been established.
EE confirmed that the mast was one of its own, and produced the following statement on Friday evening:
“Our engineers are at the site assessing the cause of the fire. If it transpires that it was arson, which looks likely at this time, then we will work to help West Midlands police identify a culprit.
“To deliberately take away mobile connectivity at a time when people need more than ever to stay connected to each other, is a reckless, harmful and dangerous thing to do. We will try to restore full coverage as quickly as possible, but the damage caused by the fire is significant.”
That Birmingham fire, if it is confirmed to be arson, appears to be one of several over the past week. A group established on Facebook that has since been removed from the platform, was seemingly keeping a record of fires at mobile mast sites and it identified fires in “Romford” and “Watford”, which could correspond with the Thurrock and Bushey locations identified by the Vodafone employee.
The motivation for the fire setting is unclear although there is a huge amount of lies and disinformation about 5G and health circulating at present, some of it related to Covid-19. Some of these wrong theories state that 5G either directly causes or helps spread the virus. The genesis of that lie is that Wuhan was in some way a centre of 5G in China. The deceit ignores that fact that one country with the most 5G, South Korea, has so far had the most success in containing the virus, and also that the virus is spreading fast in areas with no 5G. It also ignores that other areas of China have more 5G active than Wuhan, and also appear to have successfully contained the outbreak. Additionally, several countries and regions without 5G have suffered bad outbreaks.
Again the BBC reported on this element. A further BBC report said that the UK Government is due to ask social media sites to take more action to take down posts citing or spreading false information.
The industry body for the UK’s mobile operators has produced two recent statements. The first, on Friday, recognised that infrastructure and staff were being threatened, and described concerns around 5G and health as “baseless”.
The second, published Sunday 5 April, came in the form of a direct letter to customers. It asked, “Please help us to make this stop. If you witness abuse of our key workers please report it. If you see misinformation, please call it out. Your help will make a real difference”