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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK
Protest over mobile phone mast
Protest outside St Mary's School
The protestors say they will not stop until the mast goes
Hundreds of children were kept off school on the first day of term in a protest about the siting of a mobile telephone mast.

Of the 400 pupils at St Mary's school in Hornchurch, Essex, only 55 turned up for lessons.

Those who stayed out of the classrooms staged a demonstration outside the school.

The protest was organised by parents who say the mast - which has been erected on engineering works nearby - is a health hazard.

Parent-governor Jo Patten-Walsh, who has a daughter at the school, was pleased with the turn-out.

Michael Coy
Head teacher Michael Coy backs the protest
"I think it was very well-supported. Only 55 pupils went in and that was largely due to parents' problems organising childcare," she said.

"It shows the strength of feeling here. We are determined and we are not going to stop until the mast is removed."

Eileen Conlon, the leader of the "Mast Action Group" which organised the protest said: "I think it's disgusting, this should never have gone up.

The BT Cellnet mast was put up at the end of last term but has yet to be turned on.

The company had planned to switch on the mast on 14 September but now says it will wait until further consultations have been carried out.

The head teacher of St Mary's Roman Catholic school, Michael Coy, supports the protest.

"The community are worried about the health of their children and are making their voice heard in the only way they can," he said.

Planning laws allow masts to be put up without special permission where the total installation is less than 15 metres high.

mobile telephone mast
BT says it will discuss the mast with the community
But the local authority - Havering - said BT should have consulted local people properly.

Roy Harris from the council said BT Cellnet only belatedly opened a drop-in centre where people could give their opinions.

Feelings were running so high that many parents at the popular school wrote to the council saying they would keep their children off school this term.

But, having made their protest, they say they will send their children to school and wait to see what happens as a result of consultations being planned by BT.

Governor Jo Patten-Walsh says the protestors will do everything they can to move the mast: "We are looking at taking legal action and have one of the best lawyers in the country looking at the case."

BT Cellnet has already said that the site is the best possible one for the mast and that the mast is "crucial" for the area.

The BBC's Emily Catto
"They're in no mood for compromise"
Eileen Conlan, parent involved in the protest
"We had no consultation"
See also:

13 Aug 01 | Education
Mobile phone mast 'threatens school'
03 Apr 01 | UK Politics
MPs urge action over mobile masts
08 Dec 00 | Health
7m for mobile health research
30 Jun 00 | Health
Phone mast fears dismissed
15 Aug 00 | Scotland
Victory for phone mast protesters
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