Gateshead Council has been forced to clarify it is not conducting “secret government trials” using 5G technology in streetlights after a bizarre conspiracy theory took hold.
The local authority said it had to “set the record straight” in a Facebook post on Monday night after rumours about old 3G antennae on top of the borough’s streetlights began to circulate.
The device allows staff to control the light’s brightness, but rumours had apparently began to swirl that the North East council was using 5G technology to conduct clandestine operations on behalf of MI5.
The council had to debunk the “tin foil hat” conspiracy theories after local representatives reported that elderly and vulnerable people were upset, with many fearing the antennae could give them cancer.
One Gateshead Council reply to a resident reads: “If you don’t believe Gateshead Council, then please feel free to contact Public Health England direct, or the National Radiological Protection Board, or the BMA, or OFCOM. I’m sure they will be able to furnish you with all the evidence you’d wish.”
It added: “We know that this is upsetting vulnerable and elderly people, so we want to publicise this widely to reassure them that what they are being told is not true.”
One resident, Nicola Baxter, laughed at the post but asked what the antennae were for.
The council replied: “It is a small transceiver which allows street lights to be adjusted or turned on or off. It uses the old 2G/3G mobile phone network. They transmit for the equivalent of 80 seconds a week at less than 1% of the safe exposure limit set by the authorities.”
Chris McHugh, a councillor from the Labour-controlled authority Labour, said: “The Council has categorically stated that they do not use 5g technology to control lamp posts.
“Let’s get down to the serious business of how we deal with the real issues.
“Delivering social care for vulnerable children and adults, growing Gateshead’s economy and tackling growing child poverty are at the top of our agenda.”
A spokesperson for Gateshead Council said: “We are aware that certain individuals are frightening local people with false stories about the street lights in Gateshead – despite the fact we, and others, have told them repeatedly that their allegations are entirely false.