A man who searched for 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories online has been jailed for setting fire to a phone mast.
Michael Whitty, 47, carried out internet searches that linked 5G to COVID-19 before he set fire to an equipment box linked to a Vodaphone mast in Kirkby, Merseyside, on 4 April, Liverpool Crown Court heard.
The arson attack caused between £10,000 and £15,000 worth of damage and left the mast out of service for 11 days, prosecutor Simon Christie said.
It was one of 13 attacks on phone masts in the area at the time, he added.
Whitty, a father-of-three from Kirkby, was sentenced to three years in prison over videolink from HMP Altcourse after pleading guilty to arson at an earlier hearing.
Three people were seen running away from the scene, but the other two have not been found, the hearing was told.
After Whitty was arrested, police officers searched his home and found firelighters similar to ones left at the mast.
When they looked through his mobile phone, they found searches about 5G technology, including posts on internet forums, as well as pictures and videos of phone masts in the local area.
Judge Thomas Teague QC said: “In my view there was here a high degree of planning and premeditation.”
Andrew Alty, defending, added that Whitty had a genuinely held view about the potential dangers of 5G masts.
He said: “That view may or may not be correct, time will tell. He acknowledges his response was wrong and disproportionate.”
Whitty volunteered for a charity called Centre 63 delivering food parcels as well as working in parking facilities at Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
His lawyer said he had struggled to come to terms with the death of his nephew in 2014 and the subsequent acquittal of a defendant tried for his murder.
He said he believed Whitty had showed genuine remorse and his charitable work showed a “positive side” to his character.
Whitty had 29 previous convictions, including ones for assault and posession of a firearm, but none for arson, Judge Teague added.
Speaking after the sentencing, Ben Ryder, from Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, said: “There is no scientific evidence of any link between 5G and coronavirus. Arson is a very serious crime and we will always work with our police colleagues to seek justice.”
Detective Inspector Steve Ball added: “More than ever all members of the public are dependent on technology, including their mobile phones, to keep in touch with loved ones.
“People may also need their phone lines to contact the emergency services when they are in need and stupidity like this could put someone’s life at risk.”