Active patrols are being conducted by West Midlands Police to deter further attacks on 5G phone masts, the force’s Chief Constable has said.
Dave Thompson told a strategic policing and crime board meeting on Tuesday that a senior detective was investigating damage caused to several masts linked to false claims the 5G roll-out is spreading coronavirus.
Mr Thompson also answered questions about reports of health workers’ badges and even a uniform being targeted by thieves, who presumably wanted to “get themselves up a queue in the supermarket”.
Responding to a question from the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, Mr Thompson described the claims made about 5G masts as “one of the stranger” examples among a “huge amount of fake news and speculation” surrounding coronavirus.
The senior officer said: “The force has seen some examples where people who are either motivated by this belief or have seized it as an opportunity to be disruptive, have caused some damage to masts.
“There is an active investigation around the ones we have had here in the West Midlands.”
A mast providing mobile connectivity to the Nightingale hospital in Birmingham was among 20 suspected arson attacks around the country over the Easter weekend.
At least nine masts in the West Midlands have been set on fire or vandalised since the start of April.
Confirming that a senior detective is leading an inquiry into the offences alongside national agencies, Mr Thompson added: “We are working to ensure the best protection exists around these sites in terms of target-hardening them, but at the same time West Midlands Police is actively patrolling locations to ensure we capture evidence and we try and make sure that we provide a deterrent.”
Mr Thompson urged anyone who had overheard anyone claiming responsibility for the attacks to contact police, stressing that vulnerable people may not be able to use phone networks after masts are damaged.
Addressing the problem of Covid-19-related offences, Mr Jamieson asked Mr Thompson: “We’ve had reports that some health workers have had badges taken from them or even in one case, I understand somebody tried to take their uniform, with a view I presume to get themselves further up a queue in the supermarket.
“Could you give us a feel for the type of work and the importance you are giving to protecting those people?”
Mr Thompson responded: “People are probably aware the court system has contracted slightly to transition through this particular period.
“But the area it has not contracted is around remand cases, and the other is Covid-related criminality.
“We have prioritised crimes that relate to Covid issues in the force. Prior to this, if somebody had taken a bottle of hand sanitiser from a hospital, we might have said that was a relatively low-level offence.
“Today, acts like that are endangering people at this time and they must be prioritised very substantially.”
The meeting, held via a Zoom video-conferencing link and broadcast to the public on YouTube, was told that crime levels had fallen substantially during lockdown.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Jamieson said: “Whilst crime overall is down, new trends are emerging. I am worried about key workers being targeted for ID passes or other items. This will not be tolerated and anyone caught will be dealt with robustly.”