Thousands affected by mast sabotage

Jun 14 2004

By Richard Warburton, The Birmingham Post


Thousands of homes across the West Midlands were left without television coverage over the weekend after a transmitter was attacked and damaged.

The Wrekin transmitter in Shropshire went off air shortly after 8pm on Saturday, leaving 124,000 homes without reception for nearly four hours.

A caller to the BBC claimed responsibility on behalf of the militant Fathers 4 Justice group, but the organisation's leader later denied it had sanctioned the attack. Homes in parts of the Black Country, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Hereford and Worcestershire were affected.

A West Mercia Police spokesman yesterday said officers were looking into attack, but would not confirm they were following up any particular group.

"The police are currently investigating the circumstances relating to the loss of transmission of the Wrekin transmitter at Wellington, Telford," he said.

"The transmitter was off air from about 8.15pm for about four hours. Damage to the equipment has been located and its value is being assessed."

The spokesman added that officers would ask any witnesses with any information to come forward and contact police.

The BBC said a mystery caller had claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of the Fathers 4 Justice group, which campaigns for equal rights for parents to see their children after separation or divorce.

But the leader of Fathers 4 Justice, Matt O'Connor, told the corporation he was not aware of the transmitter attack and said it had not been sanctioned by the group.

"I would be very unhappy if it was one of our members," he said. "We have a strategy and this doesn't fit in with our strategy." In a statement on its website, the group says: "Fathers 4 Justice advocates peaceful non-violent direct action based on the Greenpeace model with a dash of humour thrown in for good measure."

At a special summit meeting held at a Shropshire hotel in February, plans were set out by the group to step up controversial public demonstrations.

It was believed details were issued at the conference of a "Plan B" which involved the disruption of almost every major motorway in Britain if leaders are arrested.

A Midland spokesman for the group said the conference of 60 co-ordinators had decided to step up its campaign despite increased pressure from police.

They have vowed to continue their acts of "civil disobedience" until there are changes to the law.

Recent stunts carried out by members of the group include the purple flour bomb attack on Tony Blair in the House of Commons and a four-man protest on top of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.

Although not a member of the group, Fathers 4 Justice congratulated David Chick for his protest last November when he dressed up as Spiderman and climbed a 145ft crane in a sixday protest costing the taxpayer 50 million. The 36-year-old brought central London to a halt during his Tower Bridge sit-in.