IT'S NOT their fault - that's the verdict of a top lawyer, who has defended Ryedale District Council's handling of a controversial mobile phone mast.

Residents at Sheriff Hutton have threatened legal action after the council said there was nothing it could do to move the Orange mast.

Nigel Giffin QC was called in to look at the council's options.

He concluded the council was not to blame - even though it was its error that prompted the furore.

As revealed in The Press at the time, council bosses failed to submit their written objections to the company within the formal deadline.

Mr Giffin's advice said: "This error has in fact made no difference whatever to the outcome, because there was ultimately no proper basis for refusing prior approval consent in any event.

"Accordingly, whilst it may well be that there are people in Sheriff Hutton who think that the erection of the mast is the result of the council's error, that is not in truth an objectively tenable view of what has happened.

"Rather, the erection of the mast results from the current state of the scientific evidence coupled with the nature of current planning powers and guidance."

Mr Giffin also ruled out spending public money to move the mast.

He said: "It is hard to see that it can be right to expend a substantial sum of public money in order to restore public confidence in the council, when the council is not in fact the author of the problem."

He added: "If the mast remains where it is, the council is entitled to say that it is because it had no power to bring about a different result, and not because it did not use some power which it did have."

John Botting, a prominent anti-mast campaigner at Sheriff Hutton, said: "I can understand where Mr Giffin is coming from, but this means we are totally disenfranchised. If we accept this advice, whenever a phone company wants to put a mast up, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.

"Are we going to have Sheriff Hutton repeated across North Yorkshire?"

Senior councillor Robert Wainwright said: "The council has left no stone unturned to try to resolve this long-running issue.

"The views of local people have been listened to and we will continue to work with Ryedale residents to ensure that such a situation does not happen again by amended internal procedures and systems."