Coronavirus: Man who believed 5G conspiracy jailed for three years for phone mast arson

Ross McGuinness
·4-min read
Michael Whitty, who believed 5G technology was linked to coronavirus, set fire to a phone mast (PA)
Michael Whitty, who believed 5G technology was linked to coronavirus, set fire to a phone mast (PA)

A man who believed a conspiracy theory linking 5G technology to coronavirus has been jailed for three years for setting fire to a phone mast.

Charity worker Michael Whitty, 47, made internet searches for theories linking 5G and COVID-19 before carrying out the arson.

The father-of-three, from Kirkby, Merseyside, set fire to the equipment box of the Vodafone mast, Liverpool Crown Court heard on Monday.

White, who pleaded guilty to arson in a previous hearing, was sentenced via videolink from HMP Altcourse.

In April, the government called the suggestion that 5G masts cause coronavirus a “crazed conspiracy theory”, while a number of scientists spoke out to debunk the alleged link.

Mobile network phone masts are visible in front of St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.The Chinese tech firm Huawei has been designated a "high-risk vendor" but will be given the opportunity to build non-core elements of Britain's 5G network, the government has announced. The company will be banned from the "core", of the 5G network, and from operating at sensitive sites such as nuclear and military facilities, and its share of the market will be capped at 35%. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A man has been jailed for an arson attack on a phone mast (AP Photo)

Sentencing Whitty, Judge Thomas Teague QC said: "In my view there was here a high degree of planning and premeditation.

"There was use of firelighters and, in the sense that the aim was to put the mast out of action, there was intent to cause very serious damage to property."

Simon Christie, prosecuting, said three people had been seen running away from the scene of the blaze on Coopers Lane in Kirkby on 4 April, but two had not been traced.

The arson was one of 13 attacks on phone masts in Merseyside at the time, the court heard.

When Whitty's home, on Perimeter Road in Kirkby, was searched later that month, officers discovered firelighters, similar to those found at the scene, and analysis of his phone showed he had carried out searches for 5G technology and engaged in discussions on chat groups about it.

Photos and videos of other phone masts around Liverpool were also found on the phone.

Mr Christie said the defendant believed the mast he targeted to be 5G, although it was not clear if there was any evidence to confirm that it was.

He said between £10,000 and £15,000 worth of damage was done to the equipment, which was out of operation for 11 days after the fire.

Andrew Alty, defending, said Whitty had a genuinely held view about the potential dangers linked to 5G masts.

Charity volunteer Michael Whitty has been jailed for three years for an arson attack on a phone mast (PA)
Charity volunteer Michael Whitty has been jailed for three years for an arson attack on a phone mast (PA)

He said: "That view may or may not be correct, time will tell. He acknowledges his response was wrong and disproportionate."

The court heard there were references for Whitty from a parish priest and from Jeane Lowe, chief executive of charity Centre 63, praising volunteer work he did including delivering food parcels.

Mr Alty said Whitty, who runs parking facilities at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, had struggled to come to terms with the death of his nephew in 2014 and the subsequent acquittal of a defendant tried for his murder.

Judge Teague said Whitty had 29 previous convictions, including for assault and for possession of a firearm, but none for similar offences.

He said he believed Whitty had showed genuine remorse and his charitable work showed a "positive side" to his character.

Watch the video below

Speaking after the sentencing, Ben Ryder, from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, said: "This is a clear message to those who would put firefighters and the public at risk by setting fire to phone masts - your actions have very real consequences for you."

He added: "There is no scientific evidence of any link between 5G and coronavirus. Arson is a very serious crime and we will always work with our police colleagues to seek justice."

Detective Inspector Steve Ball said: "More than ever all members of the public are dependent on technology, including their mobile phones, to keep in touch with loved ones.

"People may also need their phone lines to contact the emergency services when they are in need and stupidity like this could put someone's life at risk."

Coronavirus: what happened today

Click here to sign up to the latest news, advice and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter

Read more about COVID-19

How to get a coronavirus test if you have symptoms
How easing of lockdown rules affects you
In pictures: How UK school classrooms could look in new normal
How public transport could look after lockdown
How our public spaces will change in the future

Help and advice

Read the full list of official FAQs here
10 tips from the NHS to help deal with anxiety
What to do if you think you have symptoms
How to get help if you've been furloughed