Compound Security Systems Ltd (CSS) is, once more, making the news for all the wrong reasons. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the Merthyr-based outfit manufactures the Mosquito, a device emitting a very loud, high-pitched noise designed to “deter youths from congregating” according to the company website. And it works. Young people find the noise unbearable and degrading. “It [the Mosquito] makes us feel like second-class citizens”, said one.
Since production began in 2006, 6,000 of the devices (costing £500 each) have been bought by local authorities and, not surprisingly, police forces around the UK in attempts to make life even worse for our young people.
Quite rightly, this modern-day instrument of torture has attracted scathing criticism from children’s organisations and Liberty, the human rights watchdog. “Imagine the outcry if a device was introduced that caused blanket discomfort to people of one race or gender, rather than to our kids”, said Liberty. Kathleen Marshall, the children’s commissioner for Scotland said: “such indiscriminate targeting would not be tolerated against any other section of society”. Al Aynsley-Green, the children’s commissioner for England described the use of the Mosquito as “demonising children and young people.” Autistic children are particularly at risk, according to Benet Middleton of the National Autistic Society. Keith Towler, the children’s commissioner for Wales, has been much less outspoken, which shows a serious lack of judgement, given that the Mosquito is manufactured in his patch.
The ‘Buzz Off’ campaign, which documents young people’s opposition to the device and their desire to see it outlawed, is having some success. Mosquito sales are falling as local authorities find themselves subject to increasing pressure to remove the contraptions from public places.
Yet CSS still hasn’t got the message. To counter falling profits, Howard Stapleton, the Mosquito’s inventor, has just launched the Mini Mosquito, a half-price version for homeowners, even though last year he promised he wouldn’t. The company is also flogging the “improved” mark 4 Mosquito, which can emit an ear-splitting 108 decibels (dB), way above World Health Organisation recommendations that outdoor noise levels should not exceed 55 dB. Clearly Mr Stapleton doesn’t care about the potential damage to children’s hearing, even, presumably, that of his own five children!
So why isn’t the Mosquito banned?
Perhaps the campaigners haven’t paid enough attention to the impressive list of documents on the company website “all of which have been compiled and written by independent third parties” we’re told. Had the commissioners taken a close look at the evidence, they would have understood that, rather than supporting the company’s official claim that the Mosquito is completely harmless, the reports highlight serious health risks and express grave reservations about its usage.
At the top of the list is an Acoustic Test Report carried out in April 2006 by David Taylor, clinical scientist and radiation protection adviser of the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, for North Staffordshire Police. Mr Taylor reports that his 23 year-old female “guinea pig” found the tone “disagreeable” and that it was “not possible to state categorically that supersonic components are irrelevant to any possible hazards associated with the Mosquito, since there may be effects on human hearing at lower frequencies which are unknown”. Subsequent pages of the report have been deliberately omitted, which hardly makes for a ringing endorsement. Let’s not forget, either, that Mr Taylor was reporting on a version of the Mosquito which emitted a maximum of 89 dB, 20 less than the new Mark 4.
Next is an unsigned draft report carried out by the Applied Environmental Research Centre Ltd (AERC) and commissioned by CSS in 2006 so not independent at all. Mr Stapleton considers the report so crucial that he’s listed it twice. Whoops! Here’s what paragraph 3.4.1 of the report says (twice): “Exposure to constant or very loud noise – either occupational (above 80 dB) or leisure-associated – can cause temporary or permanent hearing damage.” The report’s unknown author also suggests that existing legislation, such as the Noise Act 1996, isn’t applicable to the Mosquito, but insists that: “specialist legal advice is sought regarding the conclusions drawn from this assessment”. So they’re not sure of its legality.
Likewise, another CSS-commissioned report carried out by the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR) at the University of Southampton admits that “It seems possible that the worst-case Mosquito signal 16.8KHz at 89 dB might produce some subjective effect in sensitive individuals”. We wonder what the institute would say about increasing the volume to 108 dB?
Other documents, such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Advocacy Report and one by the Belgian Superior Health Council turn out to be worthless summaries written by person(s) unknown.
Those who are still convinced, however, that the Mosquito can make the world a better place will take comfort from the findings of a third party report “analysing the use of high frequency sound and its impact on human hearing”. Compiled in July 2007, this document concludes unequivocally that “there is no danger to hearing from exposure to the Mosquito device“. And the author? A certain Simon Morris who just happens to be one of the directors of…Compound Security Systems Ltd!
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