Activists have begun tearing down mobile-phone masts around the country, as public concern over the health impact of the radiation they emit continues to grow.
The destruction of the masts - as many as four in a single week - signals a dramatic stepping up of the campaign to stop them being placed on top of, or close to, people's houses.
Earlier this month, masts were brought down at Wishaw and Dudley in the West Midlands, Crosby in Merseyside and Tiverton in Devon. At least four have also been brought down in Northern Ireland in recent months.
Although government advisers say there is no evidence that the masts threaten peoples' health, those living near them have complained of illnesses ranging from cancer to motor neurone disease. Some scientific studies have suggested that the radiation produced by the aerials has an impact on sleep patterns and could have health implications.
Lisa Oldham, the director of Mast Sanity, a group that campaigns against the masts being sited close to communities, said: "We don't condone the use of criminal acts to bring down the masts, but this does suggest the level of protest against them.
"We are swamped with people protesting about them. There are thousands of groups trying to get masts moved or trying to prevent new ones being placed near their homes."
At Wishaw, a village near Sutton Coldfield, a 74ft mobile mast was pulled down in the early hours of November 6 by a protester using a rope and haulage equipment. The mast, which was put up 10 years ago on a narrow patch of land between a field and a livery yard, has been blamed for causing a cluster of cancers in the area.
Among those living in the 18 houses within a 500-yard radius of the mast there are 20 cases of serious illness, including cancers of the breast, prostate, bladder, lung. One man is dying of motor neurone disease. Many of the people affected are in their thirties and forties.
Since the mast was toppled, residents have refused to let the network provider, T-Mobile, replace it and the situation has now developed into an uneasy stand-off.
Eileen O'Connor, who lives within 300 yards of where the mast used to stand, had breast cancer two years ago at the age of 38. She noticed that many of her neighbours were attending her hospital with similar problems and set up Sutton Coldfield Residents Against Masts (Scram).
"We have absolutely no idea who took the mast down, and obviously it was a dangerous and inadvisable thing to do," said Mrs O'Connor, who runs an internet advertising business. She and her children, who also suffered ill-effects, sleep under copper-mesh "mosquito nets" in an effort to deflect any mobile phone radiation.
"The first I knew about it was when I looked out of my window in the morning and couldn't see the mast. Apparently the company said that they lost the signal at 12.30am. Someone had unbolted the mast and pulled it over using a rope."
Clare Villanueva, a solicitor and Scram campaigner in Wishaw, has written to Crown Castle, the company that owns the land on which the mast stood, saying that it cannot legally gain access to the site to replace the mast because its path crosses someone else's land.
Residents are now carrying out a 24-hour vigil to ensure that a new mast is not set up, and both sides are paying for security guards to patrol the borders of the land. The locals have suggested an alternative location away from habitation for T-Mobile to use, but this has been rejected by the company.
A spokesman for T-Mobile said that the police had been called to investigate. "It defies belief that nobody in Wishaw noticed when the mast was coming down," he said.
A spokesman for the Mobile Operators' Association, which represents the five network providers on health and planning issues, said that all its members operated within accepted World Health Organisation guidelines for radiation emissions and there was no proof that masts caused health problems.
She added: "The number of masts being brought down is very small in the overall scheme of things. However, it is certainly worrying that people are taking direct action, because they could seriously hurt or even kill themselves."