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Judge agrees church wi-fi scheme can proceed

Steve Batson, centre, and Pete Freeman, right,  joint managing directors of Freeclix, have teamed up with David Broom, deputy chief executive for the Diocese of Norwich, to provide a wireless broadband service from church towers for rural communities. Picture: Denise Bradley

Steve Batson, centre, and Pete Freeman, right, joint managing directors of Freeclix, have teamed up with David Broom, deputy chief executive for the Diocese of Norwich, to provide a wireless broadband service from church towers for rural communities. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant copyright 2011

A judge has ruled that a project to transmit wireless broadband from Norfolk’s church towers can go ahead, despite the health concerns of objectors.

Judge Paul Downes oversaw a consistory court hearing on Monday to hear a disputed “faculty application” made by the parish of Postwick, outside Norwich.

The village’s church is the first to apply to install a wi-fi transmitter under the Wispire project, a joint venture by the Diocese of Norwich and service provider FreeClix 
to beam high-speed internet 
into surrounding homes and businesses.

Objections were registered by charity Electro-sensitivity UK (ESUK), which represents people who suffer a wide range of symptoms which they attribute to the presence of electromagnetic fields.

The group, along with individual objectors, submitted extensive statements and research backing their claims that broadband signals could potentially cause ill-health – but none of the opponents attended the hearing in person.

Instead, research scientists Dr Azadeh Peyman of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and Dr James Rubin of King’s College London were able to convince 
the ecclesiastical court that there was “no consistent evidence” to support theories of health risks associated with wireless broadband signals.

Judge Downes ruled that, in the absence of an opportunity to cross-examine the objectors’ research, the court had accepted the “live” evidence presented.

His ruling says: “The consistory court, like any other court, can only come to conclusions on evidence and proof.

“The views of others, however genuinely held, which do not take the matter under consideration beyond the bounds of the realm of anxious possibility only, can never be substituted for evidence and proof which is positive in nature and capable of evaluation.

“In this case the views and reports produced by the objectors from many different sources were not available for cross examination or evaluation.

“The court, therefore, had to decide which evidence it preferred. The court concluded that it preferred that of the live evidence of experts in their field, whose testimony the court was able to examine and evaluate, and went on to accept.”

Judge Downes’ decision could now pave the way for as many as 150 other Norfolk churches which have registered an interest in the Wispire scheme.

Deputy diocesan secretary David Broom said: “Clearly we are very pleased at the judgment but I am also pleased that we have aired these concerns, because we recognise they are strongly held by some people and we wanted to make sure they were taken into account.

“We think it could be the first time a consistory court has sat to discuss this issue and because of that, the judgment could have broader implications for other dioceses.”

The faculty was granted with conditions including that, should there be any advice from any government advisory body stating the limits of electromagnetic emissions require reduction, these directions must be followed.

Judge Downes’ ruling also says any safety instructions issued by the World Health Organisation or the HPA must be followed.

The EDP was unable to contact ESUK last night.

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