Mobile phones are put on trial

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A BRITISH scientist began an unusual court battle yesterday to force mobile phones to carry cigarette-style health warnings, claiming that they could cause skin problems, eye tics and memory loss.

Roger Coghill, 58, a biologist based in Pontypool, Wales, launched the first private prosecution under the 1987 Consumer Protection Act against his local phone retailer, Mobile Communication Services and its owner Wayne Morgan, claiming that the microwaves emitted by mobile phones - used by about 10 million people in Britain - could harm health, including triggering cancer.

The case follows the purchase by Mr Coghill of two pounds 130 mobile phones from the shop to launch his test case.

The company and Mr Morgan deny failing to comply with a general safety requirement under the Act. Mr Morgan also denies an allegation that he supplied a faulty mobile phone.

In evidence to the hearing, which began yesterday at Abergavenny magistrates' court, Alasdair Philips, an expert witness for the prosecution, said he had been contacted by mobile phone users displaying a wide range of symptoms.

He said: "I receive frequent calls from regular mobile-phone users reporting head-aches, loss of concentration, skin tingling or burning or twitching, eye tics, poor short-term memory, buzzing in their head at night and other effects.

"Headaches often come first and/or skin effects. Then concentration and short-term memory tends to deteriorate. It usually first affects learning or remembering new facts, similar to early signs of dementia. Users also report excessive tiredness."

Hugo Charlton QC, for the prosecution, told the court: "Were the defence to produce a decent warning sign, saying excessive use of mobile phones could be dangerous, that would give them a jolly good defence and I would not be advising Mr Coghill to carry on.

"At the moment they are doing nothing and that is not enough. I think a warning of some sort would make my case much harder. If it was in big letters on the box like cigarettes then my case would be much harder.

"This case is being brought because at the moment nothing is being done whatsoever."

The trial is believed to be one of the first private prosecutions under the Consumer Protection Act, which is normally used by trading standards departments of local councils. One of its principal provisions is that items sold by businesses for consumer use should be safe.

Mr Coghill, who runs Coghill Research Laboratories at Pontypool, South Wales, told magistrates he was concerned that mobile phones did not carry warning signs "despite the scientific evidence".

He said: "A number of very extensive research programmes are currently beginning to establish better if any risks exist. As they are being carried out over a period of years the answers are unlikely to come out for some time."

Mr Coghill added that a study conducted in America had shown a reduction in the cancer-preventing hormone melatonin among regular mobile phone users. He said he was launching the case "out of concern for the public's health and safety".

The case continues.