Threat to church phone masts 'that relay porn'

By Jonathan Petre,
Religion Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:19am GMT

The Church of England is facing an embarrassing test case over whether mobile phone masts on steeples are illegal because they can relay pornography.

The church's highest court is to hear an appeal after a diocesan judge ruled that churches were "wrong in law" to "facilitate the transmission of pornography, even in a slight or modest way".

Many parishes have allowed telecom companies to put antennae in their towers and steeples

Many parishes have cashed in on the mobile phone boom by charging telecom companies thousands of pounds a year to put antennae on their towers or steeples. Even Guildford cathedral has a mast under its golden angel weather vane.

They were encouraged by official Church guidance, which acknowledged that immoral material can be transmitted by the new technology but argued that any "ill" was outweighed by the benefits.

However, critics said mobile phones can now transmit dangerously obscene internet images and the church should dissociate itself from such technology, especially after the General Synod condemned media exploitation last month.

The contentious issue has now reached the Archbishop of Canterbury's 800-year-old Court of Arches, which is due to hear an appeal against the ruling by the diocese of Chelmsford's consistory court within weeks.

The row began in October when Chancellor George Pulman, Chelmsford's ecclesiastical judge, rejected an application from St Peter and St Paul church in Chingford, north east London, to erect a T-mobile base station in its spire.

In his judgment, Mr Pulman, a QC who also sits as a deputy High Court judge in the Family Division, became the first Chancellor to refuse a faculty on the grounds that "revolting and damaging" pornography could be transmitted by the network. He said that it was "no part of the work or the mission of the Church" to facilitate or gain financial advantage from the transmission of pornography.

He said: "No Church bookstall would consider it appropriate to offer for sale 'top shelf' magazines with their images of sexual titillation or impropriety."

Mr Pulman also attacked local authorities for granting planning permission for such antennae, saying that their social services department were well aware of the dangers to children.

The Rev Chris Newlands, the chaplain to the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev John Gladwin, said at the time that this was a landmark ruling.

The MP for Chingford, the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, said he welcomed the ruling which was a "victory for common sense".

But the judge's words flew in the face of guidance issued in 2002 by the Archbishops' Council after signing a national agreement appointing the QS4 communications company as the Church's approved mast installers.

The council, which is chaired by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, said: "Clearly there is a risk with any communication medium that it will be used for ill; but this has to be balanced against the enormous good which can flow from mobile communications - such as emergency calls, or the simple pleasures of people keeping in touch."

It added, however, that parishes "who feel strongly on this issue should not register with the national scheme".

The Rev Tom Page, the rector of Chingford, and QS4 have now appealed to the Court of Arches.

Church spokesmen declined to comment on the case, saying that it was sub judice.

Have your say

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2007.


My letter to the Telegraph.

If the Church allows 3G masts inside its steeples then it is enabling the download of porn.

It would be good if the Church could also consider the health consequencies of having phone masts in its steeples rather than listening to the assurances of the industry. Its like asking the tobacco industry for assurances that smoking is safe. There are 1000's of independent pieces of research that the Church has either not seen or is ignoring showing adverse health effects from exposure to the microwave radiation emitted from the masts. These range from genetic damage and cancer to headaches and sleep disorders. 1000's of German doctors have signed appeals to their government as they have noticed sickness in their patients resulting from exposure. One study that the Head of the Uk health Protection Agency said he is worried about is the recent EU funded REFLEX report found DNA breaks and other effects upon exposure to human cells. These can lead to cancer and other damage. There are clusters of people with cancer that have appeared after only 8 years exposure around a phone mast. Church leaders please open your eyes and stop thinking of the cash. Get those money changers out of the Temple!

I have only just picked this one up.



Reference the appeal by the Rev Tom Page (and QS4 hardly surprisingly) against the decision by the Chelmsford's Consistory Court to refuse the installation of a T-Mobile base station in the spire of St Peter and St Paul church in Chingford, perhaps we should now also be asking the Church of Arches exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and whether it would be acceptable for those angels to be scantily clad whilst doing so.

Bearing in mind that the only time He showed anger was when He cleared the profiteers from the temple, I think the Good Shepherd must be wondering whose example His 'representatives' (at least in name) are taking their lead from today - certainly not from Him.

Yours sincerely,

Churches are an easy target:

a) good height
b) residential locations
c) desperate for money
d) reduced planning burden

but social responsibility should ensure:

i) they read the full scientific indicators of risk to community health
ii) they accept future responsibility for outcomes from irreversible
iii) they accept moral responsibility for overriding people's concerns and all the effects these have
iv) they approve of the content of the traffic they are enabling through consecrated property (porn, gambling, fraud, etc.) as much as "purer" conversations and purely commercial traffic that makes the church buildings a place of trade
v) they accept they are part of "push marketing" to over-sell new products primarily to a youth market, with the social, economic and health consequences of that
vi) they accept that the use of QS4 technology is the product of a liaison between the church authorities and an arms manufacturer, QinetiQ, which develops advanced weapons technology. The Ministry of Defence until recently owned 56% of Qinetiq, with 31% in the hands of the Carlyle Group of whom Bush senior, Cheney and John Major are shareholders.

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