PROTESTERS fighting plans for a mobile phone mast close to a Winchester school have been left on tenterhooks following the latest round of legal action.

Yesterday at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Law Lords heard the final appeal against Orange's plans for a 39ft mast on Byron Avenue.

However a decision on the controversial mast could still be weeks away.

The dispute which is now more than four years old, centres on the telecommunications giants' proposals for a new transmitter close to Western Primary School.

Permission originally granted in 2001 by Winchester City Council for the mast was then quashed by a High Court judge in January 2002.

A subsequent application by Orange the following March was then refused by the authority on the grounds of health and safety issues, the availability of other sites and the effect of the mast on local visual amenity. Orange then appealed that ruling to the government's planning inspector appointed by the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and won back permission to plough ahead with their mast proposals.

The decision outraged local residents who in the name of two of the children from Western Primary School challenged the inspector's findings.

That challenge too was lost after another High Court judge, Mr Justice Sullivan, ruled the inspector's decision was lawful.

But in May this year, the campaigners were given permission for a final appeal against Mr Justice Sullivan's decision on points of law.

The battle has so far cost tens of thousands of pounds with the local community raising more than £25,000 themselves to fight the mast.

The protesters have also highlighted their cause by holding an annual vigil each year at the proposed site.

The appeal case before the three Law Lords yesterday centred on whether the government's inspector took into account other potential sites for the mast such as the Hampshire Constabulary headquarters and land near the railway station.

Barrister David Wolfe acting on behalf of six-year-old Phoebe St Leger Davey, of Chilbolton Avenue, Winchester, and seven-year-old James Harrison, of Poets Way, Winchester, both pupils at Western Primary School, told the court he believed the inspector was wrong not to take into account the other sites, despite Orange's protests that they couldn't get permission to use them.

But after a day of legal wrangling the three judges Mr Justice Pill, Mr Justice Mummery and Mr Justice Law, decided to postpone a judgement while they considered all the points raised.

It has left the protestors in a state of limbo, unsure as to whether their cause is won or lost.

Speaking after the hearing Byron Avenue resident and stalwart of the anti-mast campaign, Karen Barratt, said she was still hopeful of a positive outcome.