- The ill-fated Cornish revolt of 1497 began in the pretty,
isolated village of St Keverne on the Lizard peninsula, as a protest over
unjust taxes levied by London. Now, its population has rebelled once more
against an idea imposed from afar, which they believe could have been far
more damaging than any mere financial loss.
- This time the population has had more success than in
1497, when its leaders were executed. They have won their point and become
one of the few communities in the country to be without a Tetra radio mast.
"It's not as though we aren't already chock-a-block with radio masts
and aerials around here: there's the BT Satellite Earth Station at
and RAF Culdrose up the road," says John Gough, spokesman for the
anti-Tetra campaigners. "But when we saw they were going to put up
a Tetra mast, we decided to find out about it on the internet. We were
immediately very concerned." More than 350 people out of a total
of only 1,600 lodged objections to the local planning committee, which
rejected the application to erect the 50ft-high mast on farmland near the
- It was the experiences of others elsewhere that motivated
the St Keverne campaign. They learnt of stories like that of Andy Davidson
in Worthing who, suffering headaches and insomnia, had to sleep with metal
plates around his head; and of the 80 people around Dursley in the
who claim to have suffered similar problems, one of whom has covered her
bedroom windows with metal mesh to stop the symptoms. They also learnt
of Mandy Keeling and her family in Bognor Regis, whose sickness and
ended when the local Tetra mast was taken down.
- You may not have heard of Tetra masts, but there's almost
certainly one near you. If not, it's on the way. Tetra - Terrestrial
Radio - is the new police communications network that is replacing their
outdated, unreliable VHF system. It gives officers a mobile phone and
radio in the same handset, and is being implemented around the country
by O2 Airwave, previously part of BT, which has a £2.9bn, 15-year
contract with the Home Office to supply all 51 forces in England, Wales
and Scotland through a network of around 3,500 masts. Around 40 forces
have been supplied so far, but the system will not be fully operational
until May 2006.
- Around 70 per cent of Tetra masts have been, or will
be, built on sites already in use; some replace old masts, others are added
to existing ones. The remainder are new masts, such as St Keverne,
by police to improve communications in remote areas. The Home Office says
it chose the Tetra system, which is used in 65 countries, in preference
to others such as the French-based Tetrapol, used in about 28 countries,
because it is technically superior. It was criticised by the House of
Public Accounts Committee for failing to incorporate financial safeguards
in case the health fears proved justified, and by the EC for refusing to
accept tenders from non-Tetra operators.
- But the programme's completionnext year is unlikely to
be the end of Tetra installations. O2 Airwave is short-listed for the
to supply the fire and ambulance services; this may lead to further masts.
If Airwave is not awarded the multimillion-pound contracts when the
are announced over the next two months, it will be seen as a victory for
anti-Tetra campaigners and evidence of a lack of official faith in the
- Although the health fears surrounding Tetra are linked
to concerns about mobile-phone masts, the symptoms that affect some people
appear consistent - sleep deprivation, nausea, headaches, ear pressure,
nosebleeds. They seem to stop when the Tetra exposure ends. They occur,
it is claimed, because the masts transmit and receive signals on the 400
MHz frequency, which are pulsed at 17.65Hz. In 2000, the Government's
on mobile-phone safety by Sir William Stewart, a former chief scientific
adviser, recommended that frequencies around 16Hz - the frequency at which
the human brain transmits signals - be avoided as a precaution, even though
there was no confirmed health risk.
- Campaigners say the apparent link between cause and
underlines their concerns about Tetra. In Bognor Regis 44-year-old Mandy
Keeling began to vomit last New Year's Eve. "It was the day, I later
learnt, that the Tetra mast 150 yards from my home began transmitting.
I had two months of nausea, headaches and poor sleep. Doctors could do
nothing. Then I heard about the mast. I was cynical about it at first.
I thought, 'Pull yourself together.' I've lived here for 12 years, and
there are other mobile masts, but none had made my brain vibrate."
By now her two sons, aged nine and 19, were suffering, too; the younger
one had nosebleeds.
- She went knocking on doors and discovered neighbours
had been affected as well. They campaigned to have the mast taken down;
eventually, the company agreed. The mast was dismantled in May. Keeling
was transformed: "I felt better within a month, and we're all
healthy now. Except when I go near a Tetra mast somewhere
- What seems clear is that, if Tetra does have an affect,
it is only triggered in those who are sensitive to low-frequency radio
waves are directly exposed. After months of sleeplessness and headaches,
Andy Davidson's solution was to take a couple of metal plates and place
them around his pillow to block out the signals from the transmitter across
the playing-field; both the mattress and the plates were earthed. It
"It may be strange, but it's the only way I can get a decent night's
sleep," he says. But his wife and children have not suffered, and
a survey of more than 400 local people showed that, while around 40 per
cent had suffered from sleeplessness and/or headaches since the mast
everyone else was OK. Davidson is now moving house.
- His case is one of hundreds of examples collected by
Tetrawatch, the national campaign against Tetra, which has gathered force
as Tetra has been rolled out around the country over the past three years.
Tetrawatch argues that the system is untested; is being imposed
is shunned by many other European countries, including France; and that
health fears are being underplayed by the Government in the same way that,
say, the link between CJD and BSE was in the early 1990s.
- John O'Brien, the spokesman, stressed that the Tetra
system in this country is different to both Tetrapol and other Tetra
elsewhere, because to meet police requirements it uses the pulsed
which is feared to create the symptoms. "This is an untried and
system. There is something different about this type of Tetra system
with other mobile transmissions systems, and that is why we're worried
about it." And concern isn't confined to people living near base
- a number of landowners, including Lord Cowdray and the Duke of Norfolk,
have refused to allow Tetra masts on their land.
- And then there are the police officers, who are being
exposed every day. When Tetra first began, the Police Federation, which
represents lower-ranking officers, commissioned a report by an independent
physicist, Barrie Trower. He predicted the occurrence of cancers resulting
from Tetra and warned that the system could lead to "more civilian
deaths in peacetime than all the terrorist organisations put
But it was too late. Tetra was already being rolled out around the
- One of the first forces to go "live" was
in 2001. Within a short space of time, more than 170 officers out of a
force of 3,500 were reporting the typical symptoms. But, says Steve
chairman of the local branch of the Police Federation, complaints have
tailed off. "If my members were suffering on a daily basis, they would
be knocking on my door every day. They are not. Opinion is divided. I can't
tell members it's safe, but I can't say it's definitely going to damage
- But concerns remain. In Leicestershire, PC Neil Dring,
an otherwise healthy motorcycle officer, suffered headaches and nosebleeds
soon after being issued with his Tetra handset. He developed oesophageal
cancer and died this summer. His family believe the cancer was linked to
his handset, which he wore strapped to his body. Another officer in the
force has also developed the same relatively unusual cancer.
- It is not, says Steve Edwards, as though the Tetra
is even the answer to all police communication needs. "Tetra hasn't
delivered yet. It's encrypted, so it's more secure than VHF, but it can't
yet do all the things we were told it would, like send photos, link to
the police national computer, or allow communication between officers in
different forces. We hope it will be better when the whole system is up
- Medical opinion is divided. On one side are the
scientists, such as Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the
Research Council, who say there's no evidence that Tetra is unsafe; on
the other, independent consultants such as Dr Gerard Hyland, a former head
of physics at the University of Warwick, who believe otherwise. "We
could be seeing a pandemic of brain tumours in 10 years," he told
The Ecologist recently. Earlier this year, the National Radiological
Board (NRPB), the independent watchdog, concluded: "Although areas
of uncertainty remain about the biological effects of low-level RF
current evidence suggests it is unlikely that the special features of
from Tetra mobile terminals and repeaters pose a hazard to
- Curiously, The Ecologist pointed out, there is now what
some see as evidence of official backtracking on the Stewart report.
Blakemore, a member of the NRPB's advisory group and the Stewart committee,
said16Hz radio waves provide "no cause for alarm. I still hold to
both of my previous statements. In principle, it would have been better
if 16Hz pulsing could have been avoided. But that was said in the context
of the strict precautionary approach of the Stewart report." Professor
Lawrie Challis, deputy chairman of the Stewart committee, said the 16Hz
warning was made in recognition of the existence of "unreplicated
research from the 1970s", and there was "no evidence that 17.65Hz
modulation of the emission from Tetra phones would lead to any adverse
- Tetrawatch questions the NRPB's independence from the
vested interests of the Home Office and the mobile-phone industry.
the criticisms, Home Office ministers and Airwave cite the technical
of Tetra, and refer health concerns to the conclusions of the NRPB. The
Home Office says some symptoms suffered are, like those associated with
mobile-phone masts, often related to stress caused by a perception of risk,
rather than the reality; whether some people are genuinely sensitive to
certain radio waves, it says, must be the subject of further research.
It has also commissioned a 10-year study of police handsets by Imperial
College London. But Tetrawatch says if its fears are justified, any results
will come too late.
- Airwave adds that gaining the fire and ambulance
would help to provide an integrated national system with only
increase in the number of masts; that it operates within recommended NRPB
safety levels; and that the handsets pulse, the masts do not. But such
assurances are not enough for Mandy Keeling: "If a food you could
buy on the high street had all these concerns raised about it, it'd be
off the shelves straight away."
- Back in St Keverne, John Gough, a 69-year-old retired
research chemist, believes they have saved the village from an experiment
with uncertain consequences: "I'm a scientist and was a radar mechanic
in the Army, so I know a bit about radiation. Nobody can give us any
about the long-term effects of low-level frequencies, and I don't see why
anybody, anywhere, should be used as a guinea pig for this."
- © 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd