Campaigners opposed to mobile-phone masts yesterday branded as a "whitewash" a three-year scientific report suggesting mobile phone technology has no adverse effects, and vowed to continue their opposition around the country.

The report reviewed in detail hundreds of scientific papers published all over the world looking for effects from mobile phones and masts, and concluded that "in aggregate, the research published [in the past three years] does not give cause for concern".

The study, by an advisory group to the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) - which is independent of the Government - suggests radio masts "are unlikely to pose a risk to health" and that while handsets might be a greater risk because they expose people to more radiation, "overall evidence was inconclusive".

The group, chaired by Professor Tony Swerdlow of the Institute of Cancer Research, said previous studies which suggested biological effects "are not supported by recent, better-conducted studies". One group member, Professor Lawrie Challis of the University of Nottingham, said: "The exposure from a base station is thousands of times less than you get from using a phone. You get as much radiation exposure in a few seconds from using a phone by your head as you do in 24 hours from a base station." But Vivienne Coldhill, who was among more than a dozen protesters mounting a vigil at the site of a new Tetra police network phone mast at Rogate, West Sussex, yesterday, said: "Professor Challis [of the National Radiological Protection Board] said there was no effect four years ago, but other scientists think differently. I have read reports and heard scientists and medical people speaking, and they say it does have an effect, that these masts do put out pulses of radiation, and there are health risks."

Other campaigners, who oppose the siting of masts near schools and hospitals in dozens of towns and cities, said the reassurances were like those made by government scientists over BSE in the 1980s. Then, beef was described as safe to eat, a claim proved disastrously wrong. Alan Meyer, legal director of Mast Action UK, said that last September a study funded by the Dutch government had found "statistically significant adverse health effects" linked to 3G, or third generation, mobile phone masts; people living near the masts had experienced tingling, nausea and headaches.

But another NRPB group member, Dr Patrick Haggard, of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, said the committee had studied that report and found "methodological problems" and that the pattern of results was "inconsistent": "the authors of the study themselves say it needs to be replicated by someone else".

Professor Swerdlow said he could not say phones were absolutely risk-free, but that "as far as the research is available at present there's not anything that gives us cause for concern. We can't be sure what will be found in the future, and the possibility of an effect remains. We can't guess at the unknowns".

Mobile phone operators said the report "clearly confirms the findings of the [2000] Stewart report which concluded that the balance of evidence suggests that mobile phone technologies do not cause adverse health effects".

Mike Dolan, of the Mobile Operators' Association, said: "The industry is committed to addressing public concerns about mobile telephony in an open and transparent way. This is why it is jointly funding a £7.36m research programme with the UK Government."

"This is a whitewash," said Lynne Edmunds, a co-ordinator for the group Mast Sanity, which opposes the siting of Tetra police radio network masts in towns. "They're supposed to have reviewed the research done in the past three years, but their conclusion isn't borne out by half a dozen pieces of research showing health effects."

She said she had evidence of people suffering illness as soon as Tetra masts were switched on in their neighbourhoods. "I don't think the British public is hysterical or full of fools who are making this up."

Professor Challis said fears about Tetra base stations - which opponents say send out "pulsed" radiation - were misplaced. "They do not pulse, though the handsets might. In that sense, there is no reason why Tetra handsets should be considered any different from any other mobile phone mast."

Ms Coldhill, who has been part of a vigil opposing the mast since it was erected without planning permission at 2am on Saturday, said "it would be hard to persuade us now" that the masts were safe. "I would have to hear from the people who are telling us that they believe it's unsafe that they were convinced it's all right. I don't trust the NRPB."

Campaigners against two Tetra police network phone masts, in Rogate and East Marden, claimed victory last night, after O2 Airwave said it would take the masts down by 5pm on Friday. The company erected the masts last Saturday without planning permission. The council twice refused permission for the masts and had threatened the company with an injunction to force the masts' removal.

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