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Arsonists Attack Openreach Broadband Cabinets in Essex UK

Monday, February 1st, 2021 (2:04 pm) - Score 11,736

Three of Openreach’s street cabinets, and an unrelated mobile phone mast in Chelmsford (Essex), have been seriously damaged after arsonists attacked them this morning, which has sadly left almost 3,000 premises (homes and businesses) without access to either broadband or phone connectivity during a pandemic!

At this stage it’s not known why the critical telecoms infrastructure was attacked, although the inclusion of a nearby mobile mast means that suspicions may well end up being focused toward radical COVID-19 conspiracy theorists.

Supporters of such twisted beliefs tend to ignore common sense and instead believe that the new generation of 5G based mobile signals have helped to create or directly transmit the virus, which is impossible. Both ideas are as preposterous as they are lacking in any credible scientific foundation (see our fact check).

Sadly, such groups have consistently encouraged attacks against mobile infrastructure and engineers, although they often end up targeting fixed line connectivity to local homes too, which may frequently have nothing to do with the leased lines used for backhaul to mobile sites.

Leaving aside the fact that a biological virus couldn’t be more different from electromagnetic radio waves, or that COVID-19 is spreading just as fast in countries and areas with no 5G or mobile signal at all. The one sure way to actually hurt people during a very real global pandemic is by breaking the law, committing arson and cutting off the ability of people to communicate.

Kevin Murphy, Openreach’s MD for Fibre Network Delivery, said:

“Our network in Chelmsford was attacked by arsonists in the early hours of Sunday morning, leaving around 2,700 without phone and broadband services. Engineers are working hard to resolve the situation, but it is a complex fix and may take several days.

Attacks on our equipment are deeply concerning, especially considering so many people are relying on their broadband during lockdown to work, home school and stay connected with loved ones. We know how frustrating this must be for those affected and we’ll be doing what we can to prioritise fixes for vulnerable customers and key local services. We’d ask that anyone experiencing any disruption to report it to their service provider who will then inform us.

Our Security team is working with the relevant authorities to make sure that this incident is fully investigated and those responsible are held to account.”

In this case the attack occurred near to the Tesco/Miami Roundabout in Chelmsford and significant repairs may take a long time to fully complete. How long is difficult to judge, although we’re almost certainly talking several days to even weeks, rather than hours, for a full resolution.

We should point out that last year saw a number of people being sent to jail for several years following similar attacks (example), although it’s difficult to know precisely how many have so far been prosecuted.


Leave a Comment
41 Responses
  1. Fastman says:

    lets hope they are found quickly and detained for significant period – deluded , stupid and down right dangerous

    1. Steve says:

      Completely agree. To lose vital services at this time must be an absolute nightmare. Hopefully the majority can pick up a decent mobile signal for data despite a mast being targeted. Looking at that picture I also really feel sorry for the engineers, where do you start with that mess.

    2. Declan M says:


  2. joe says:

    Were all these cabinets together?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      It’s probably one of those situations where you have a PCP, DSLAM and Extension in close proximity, but I don’t know. The description made it sound like they’re close together.

    2. Eccles says:

      I believe this is the location:

      The mast is the other side of the road to the Openreach cabinets. There is CCTV on the roundabout but the odds are the camera was facing the wrong way at the time.

    3. Andy Howard says:

      I can confirm that this is the correct location. I live across the road and the site has had 8 or 9 Openreach vans in attendance since Sunday

    4. Sam says:

      Looks like the numpties were after the mast to the left of the roundabout, but got confused (as they’re numpties) and got the Openreach equipment instead.

      I don’t get some people, I really don’t. How can you possibly believe this stuff?

  3. a welshman says:

    idiots , lets just hope that they were fed off these cabs and mast

  4. TrueFibre says:

    I do hope those people get jail time and find. Because I don’t understand why they would that to people. Not only people need to work from home they need to keep in contact with friends and family and shopping online for our vulnerable and help keep us up to date with news also it’s good our entertainment too.

    1. A_Builder says:

      Straight forward criminal damage.

      This will be damaging kids last vestiges of education or even the ability to keep them distracted for a while.

      I agree that this is a real mess to fix and I can see this taking a while to fix.

    2. Lexx says:

      Not likely kids, this be actual adult around 30-40s (likely just 1 person) who thinks radio waves spread virus witch is pure stupid

      Set a cab in fire you don’t have Internet any more

  5. AnotherTim says:

    I agree with jailing the idiots. However, I do worry that the UK’s infrastructure (telecoms and other utilities) are not very resilient. The FTTP being built in my area is dependent on a single backhaul link. If anyone who knew what they were doing really wanted to damage infrastructure I think it would be very easy to disconnect millions of people for weeks.
    Of course the loss of FTTC/FTTP wouldn’t affect me – I haven’t been connected yet!

    1. joe says:

      Can’t think of a cheap way to fix that.

    2. Fastman says:

      whos building the FTTP openreach or someone one else and not all Builds are the same or have the same resilience and redundancy in them

    3. Ferrocene Cloud says:

      Unless you go with 2 completely separate links, with separate routers, taking diverse pathways, you will never have resilience. The last mile is always going to be the weak point.

      Even if you have FTTP where it can go to multiple headends (I believe some of the equipment can do this but it incurs a lot of additional expense), you’re still going to be vulnerable to a car crashing into a pole outside the estate, roadworks breaking a fibre, and so on. Not unlike some idiots burning a cabinet.

      Ultimately there’s a reason why customers have to pay a lot of money for resilience, because it costs a lot to provide it. Not seeing how that’s going to be economically viable for last mile resilience for a customer paying 40 quid a month. Add a zero or two.

    4. AnotherTim says:

      I’d accept that the last mile is always a weak link – however the last mile will only affect a handful of properties, maybe a few hundred at most. It is the single backhaul links that support thousands or tens of thousands that I would like to see being made more resilient.

    5. Ferrocene Cloud says:

      Any POP / exchange without diverse backhaul links is bad design as far as I’m concerned. I do see instances of this still around on my employer’s network on legacy devices, but these are being migrated to a more modern solution – as they should be.

      I’m far from an expert on other provider networks, but given the relative lack of issues I see on their networks, I think it’s fairly safe to say they generally have resilience in this area as well. An interconnect can fail, the last mile fibre can break, or a card can go up in smoke, but backhaul link failures taking services down is not something I tend to see.

  6. Marcus says:

    I do genuinely think telecoms and broadband should (if not already) be classed as Critical National Infrastructure and be given the legal status that goes with that.

    Wilful destruction and crime against CNI should be treated as a very serious crime and come with the investigation efforts, prosecution and punishment to match.

    I said the same years ago when there was the spate of thefts of “copper” (actually fibre) from railway lines directly impacting many 1000s of users.

    Interfering with the ability to make 999 calls, use the phone and Internet is a big deal.

    I wouldn’t be opposed to a 10+ year custodial sentence and unlimited fine for those responsible.

    1. 125us says:

      If you do that you cheapen the meaning of the term. CNI is clearly things like 999 call centres, fire brigade comms, Air Traffic Control, national grid and water companies.

    2. Alex Atkin says:

      @125us When people are isolating and doing all food shopping online, its hard to argue broadband is not just as important as those things.

      Also some mobile phone masts DO also contain emergency services networking equipment.

    3. A_Builder says:

      Well the telephone network used to be hardened. Critical lines didn’t run through the main exchanges.

      Similarly the electricity network: spot the older substations with thick concrete roofs and thick steel doors. Cold War thinking.

      Post Cold War and privatisation all that stopped.

    4. Lexx says:

      They get 5-10 years for doing this already (people have been jailed for this)

  7. Chris Sayers says:

    I’m on VM, my neighbours are tearing their hair out,I’m a member of were from Gallywood, its caused huge problems for those forced to work from home due to Covid-19.

    The chatter or howels of frustration is really telling because of these vandles.

  8. Stephen says:

    I’m taking a wild guess these people are so simple minded that their only consideration was “let’s get da evil technology!!” and didn’t have the brain processing power left over from that to consider the wider consequences of their actions. Can we at least send them to some sort of remedial school for grownups?

    1. Chris Sayers says:

      Me thinks they would not be able to put 2 and 2 together when they got home to work out why they could not play their games consoles, poetic justice.

    2. Rogan8 says:

      Whatever their motives they seemed to have managed to cause maximum disruption at a single point in the network. Lucky or speculative???

  9. Rogan8 says:

    This looks to be confined to the actual fibre line plant rather the cabinets themselves, hence the large number of affected users. This could be a lengthy repair for some cabinets, others could be back online today/tomorrow.

    1. Eccles says:

      At the moment the estimated clear time for getting PCP 26 back is Friday 5th. Fingers crossed it will be before that!

  10. AD says:

    They should just plop these conspiracy-theorists on an isolated island in the middle of the Pacific, then they’ll be able to escape the “cancer causing waves” which fry their brains.

  11. Matt says:

    Mark Jackson it sounds more like these people are on pcp! When will this retardedness stop for the love of God

    1. 125us says:

      Can we not use mental disability slurs? These people don’t have brain injuries or other neurological conditions, they’re criminals.

  12. KW says:

    This area is covered by a lot of FTTP as well, looking at the amount of fibre in that chamber I suspect its more than just the cabinets in that area that are now down. Idiots :/

  13. Optimist says:

    This does not surprise me. For far too long the police and courts have been soft on those blockading streets and tube stations, vandalising power stations etc. because they claim to be “protesting” in favour of various fashionable causes such as “saving the environment” even when their actions put lives at risk. Throw the book at them and lock them up or subject them to huge fines backed up by seizure of their property etc.

    1. L.E. Vator says:

      Ooh, I know! What an awful “fashion” trying to secure the future of life on earth is. I’m with you. I prefer unfashionable things like deliberately turning a blind eye so life can go extinct. Far preferable, and no huge fines and seizure of property for us!

    2. 125us says:

      An attack on comms infrastructure is no reason for you to trot out some ill-informed guff about other things. Try to keep to the topic in hand rather than whataboutery.

      The people who should face criminal sanction for this damage are the people who did it, not other people who did different things.

  14. Andrew says:

    Communication networks are already classed as Critical National Infrastructure. Resilience at this level of the network would be prohibitively expensive, requiring diverse routing through of a primary and secondary circuit (e.g. one line going to one exchange, the second to another). I do hope they catch the lunatic, unfortunately the world seems full of them at the moment.

  15. Sam skellern says:

    That’s a Pit, not a cabinet lol!

    1. Andy Howard says:

      The Street View shows where the cabinets used to be. They have been removed to allow repairs.

  16. Mark says:

    Absolute brain dead idiots! There could now be elderly people cut off from friends, family and of course emergency services. A lot of elderly people don’t have mobile phones and rely heavily on landlines.

    I hope the perpetrators and their families are some of the nearly 3000 affected connections!

  17. JP says:

    Wonder if he had a line fault that wasn’t getting fix xD

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