Police to sue over ‘radio sickness’
By Nick Britten 06 May 2003 • 12:01am
Police officers are preparing to sue their chief constable after claiming that their controversial new £3 billion radio system is making them seriously ill.
An unknown number of Lancashire officers have reported a string of medical complaints since the Tetra (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) system was introduced two years ago, and are now in talks with their legal representatives over lodging claims for compensation.
Some claim to have suffered severe deafness, while migraines, nausea and body warming have also been regularly cited.
In a survey by the Lancashire Police Federation, more than 170 officers said they had suffered since the new system was introduced. One scenes-of-crime investigator is understood to have been diagnosed with a tumour.
The news of the proposed action will come as a blow to the Home Office, which is pushing the Tetra system hard but, after serious concerns were raised about its effect on health, has been forced to commission an independent study, carried out by experts at London’s Imperial College.
Tetra has been promoted as offering a unified radio system for the emergency services, giving greater coverage and improved radio facilities. The Government insists the system is safe although it admits that it has never been fully tested.
But concerns have been growing that the microwave radiation emissions from Tetra masts and handsets interfere with brain patterns because the signals pulse at 17.6Hz, close to the 16Hz at which brain signals operate.
Critics claim the Government is desperate to ensure the system, operated by O2 Airwave, is a success – at least 30 other countries are lined up to buy the technology from Britain.
People living near Tetra masts have complained of cancer clusters and other illnesses, and the police concerns highlight question marks over the safety of the handsets.
Steve Edwards, chairman of the Lancashire Police Federation, said: “In our questionnaire which we sent to all officers last year we asked whether they had suffered any adverse effects from Tetra and 177 replied that they had. Symptoms included migraines, nausea, vomiting, disruptive sleep patterns, body warming.”
The number of Lancashire officers in discussion over the legal action is unclear, although Mr Edwards confirmed that at least one firm of solicitors had already been consulted.
He added: “It is good that a study into the effects of Tetra is being carried out, and the Home Office has told us that it will pull the plug on it if it is proved that there are adverse health effects, but for some people by the time that happens it will be too late and the proof of the pudding may be when somebody dies.”
Officers from the South West and North Yorkshire forces have also complained of illness after using the handsets, which they often use continuously for up to 10 hours at a time. Eleven forces have received the system so far but the intention is to have it used by 53 forces in England and Wales by 2005.
Prof Colin Blakemore of Oxford University, who contributed to the Government’s Stewart Report on the safety of mobile telecommunications, said the system was safe and that microwave radiation emitted from a Tetra handset was “1,000 times less” than that from a mobile telephone.
A spokesman for O2 Airwave said: “All handsets comply with international safety guidelines. The balance of scientific evidence is that there is no adverse health risk where these guidelines are complied with.”