PHONE and broadband engineers in Somerset are being abused - by people who believe conspiracy theories surrounding 5G.

Workers from Openreach, the UK's largest phone and broadband network, have seen an increase in attacks during the coronavirus pandemic, which the firm says are largely due to mistaken beliefs they are working on the new 5G network.

Openreach says the abuse is hampering essential work to keep the South West connected and improve households' broadband connections, as it is used by customers of BT, Sky, Plusnet, TalkTalk and many more - including GP surgeries, pharmacies, emergency services and food distribution outlets.

Among the incidents reported by some of the company's 3,500 engineers in the south west, were several incidents in Somerset.

"In Weston-super-Mare, two engineers were verbally abused with obscene language while working on a cabinet," an Openreach spokesperson said.

"A male on a pushbike accused the engineers of causing cancer through 5G and when he was ignored, threw a can of energy drink one of the engineers.

"Two further incidents have been reported in Weston-super-Mare, including one in which a member of the public threatened to beat up engineers."

The vast majority of incidents relate to theories circulating on social media channels that 5G is responsible for the coronavirus crisis, the spokesperson said.

Mobile phone masts across the country have also been targeted in arson attacks as conspiracists claim the electromagnetic waves of the network have somehow induced the pandemic.

The conspiracy theories have been widely debunked, including by Government ministers.

In Bristol, a group of engineers was confronted by a resident who forcibly removed one of the protective guard rails surrounding the manhole they were working in before shouting obscene abuse at them, accusing them of installing 5G equipment, which they were not.

In other parts of the South West and the UK, dozens of engineers have been intimidated, including having bottles of water thrown at them, threatened with physical harm, warnings that the Openreach network will be damaged, a huge amount of verbal abuse, including pretending to shoot at them with a gun hand gesture.

READ MORE: Independent fact-checking organisation debunks 'absurd' 5G conspiracy theories

Matthew Galley, Openreach’s partnership director for the South West, said: “These recent attacks on our engineers, here and elsewhere in the UK, is not only deeply concerning but totally misjudged.

"They’re playing a vital role in connecting crucial public services, vulnerable customers and millions of friends, families and businesses. They are not working on installing 5G.

“Our engineers are designated key workers and closely following government guidance in terms of social distancing.

"At this time, they’re primarily focussed on the build, repair and maintenance of connections that support critical national infrastructure.

“This work includes the NHS – where our engineers have been installing and upgrading phone and broadband services in support of the new Nightingale hospitals, including in Exeter.”

The reports come as the company said since the stay at home restrictions were introduced, it had seen an increase of around 23 per cent in internet usage across the region, mainly during daytime hours as more people are working from home and home schooling.