Is Mosquito, the high-pitched alarm only under-25s can hear, a blessing or a bane? Jamie Merrill sounds it out
What would you do if the children playing outside the front of your house were behaving badly? What if you blamed them for damaging your car or firing airgun pellets at your dog? Would you go out and remonstrate with them, talk to their parents, call the local Neighbourhood Policing Team, or install a high-pitched alarm that only younglings can hear to scare away the loitering tearaways?
The last is exactly what Scott Smith, 43, a Royal Mail manager from Royton, Greater Manchester, and his partner, Andrea Riley, 39, have done after claiming they endured months of antisocial behaviour, vandalism, racist abuse and even airgun attacks from local children on their suburban street near Oldham.
“I’m not a grumpy old man who hates children,” Smith says. “ There was damage to our cars because the kids kept hitting them with footballs. Our dog got hurt. And they made a lot of noise and this device has been a miracle for us.”
Unfortunately for Smith, his neighbours aren’t happy with his use of the Mosquito MK4 alarm and motion sensor and have complained to Oldham Council under noise-nuisance laws. Neighbour Michelle Plevin, 27, who has four children, says they can’t play outside any more and that her youngest child has been made “physically sick” by the device. “He cries and says it hurts and there is nothing I can do to help him. It’s awful,” she adds.
The latest complaint isn’t the first time the Mosquito has caused controversy, though. When the Mosquito was launched in 2008, a campaign called “Buzz Off” led by the Children’s Commissioner for England called for it to be banned, claiming the device was unnecessarily aggressive and created no-go areas for children and young adults who may have done nothing wrong. In 2010, an investigation by the Council of Europe found that the device was “ degrading and discriminatory” to youngsters and should be banned because it “violates legislation prohibiting torture”.
Since it went on the market, nearly 3,000 devices have been sold in the UK, mainly to small-shop owners, but according to its inventor, Howard Stapleton, who runs Compound Security Systems, sales of the device to families and home owners are soaring. “Many home owners and families, like this couple in Royton, have genuine antisocial-behaviour complaints but are simply not getting the assistance they deserve from their local authorities And at the end of the day, if nobody is going to help you, you are going to have to help yourself.”
The Mosquito works by emitting an alternating high-frequency tone four times a second which isn’t audible to people over about 25 years of age, but is intensely irritating to people under that age. According to Stapleton, a former aerospace engineer who came up with the device after his daughter was intimidated by a gang of boys hanging around outside shops, it makes “a noise that is impossible to ignore” because it takes advantage of a medical condition called presbycusis, which reduces our ability to hear high-frequency noises as we age. “This couple in Oldham are really at the end of their tether,” he says. “My colleagues have spoken to them and they are using the device correctly and only when they are experiencing problems. And as to reports of negative side effects, I think they have been over-egged.”
The human-rights campaign group Liberty has described it as a “ sonic weapon”, though, and in January this year the supermarket chain Aldi faced criticism for using the device in Brighton. Local resident Dan Gardener, 24, told The Argus that he tries to avoid the area around the company’s London Road store since the device was installed. “It’s definitely effective but for where it’s positioned it’s over the top.”