FURIOUS parents are threatening to boycott services at a church which has won planning permission to install four mobile phone antennae in its bell tower.

Councillors granted permission for Vodafone to install the 20-metre high antennae at St John the Evangelist Church in Church Street, Farnworth, despite being handed a 201-name petition opposing the plan. Vodafone will pay the church £5,000 a year "rent" on the antennae.

Parents whose children attend St John's CoE Primary School began the protest petition. They say that their children's health will be put at risk from radiation emitted by the masts.

Now some parents are considering withdrawing their children from the weekly school service at the church Michelle Daubney, of Hesketh Walk, Farnworth, who organised the petition, said parents were "disheartened." by the council's decision.

Miss Daubney, whose son Jack, aged five, attends St John's, said: "I think people will be angered by this decision.

"There's no proof these masts are not harmful and the safety of our children should come above everything.

"I am now considering whether I should stop Jack from attending the church services because of the phone antennae."

St John's headteacher, Tom Heaton, said he was confident the antennae would not pose a risk to his 150 pupils.

He said: "From what I've read, you get more radiation from using mobile phones than from the masts and most of our children have mobile phones.

"I wouldn't countenance anything I thought would harm our children."

The vicar, the Rev Cherry Vann, said the Vodafone rental would help meet the building's £90,000 annual running costs.

She added that only one member of the church's 100-strong congregation had raised health concerns.

Bolton Council's planning and highways committee approved the scheme by eight votes to six.

Committee members claimed that they were faced with the dilemma of conflicting guidelines when reaching a decision.

The Government-commissioned Stewart Report suggests masts could be rejected if opposed by a nearby school community.

However, official government guidance to local authorities states health grounds should not be considered if the applicant has an International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection certificate.

Cllr Ian Hamilton said: "The Government has made it quite clear that there's no evidence to say there's anything wrong with these masts."

Vodafone spokesman, Rob Matthews, said: "We design and operate our mast sites in accordance with stringent international exposure guidelines."