Apple hit back on Friday over the affair of the exploding iPhones in France by dismissing the whole story as nonsense and suggesting that the owners were either negligent or liars, the Times reported on Friday.

Apple Europe made a terse statement to Agence France-Presse, the national news agency, after its the commercial director of its French unit, Michel Coulomb, was called in by Herve Novelli, the Consumer Affairs Minister.

As of today, there has been no confirmed incident linked to battery overheating in the iPhone 3GS, and the number of cases we are investigating amounts to less than a dozen. The iPhones with broken screens that we have been able to analyse so far show, in all cases, that the cracks were caused by an external pressure upon the iPhone, the US technology giant, which has sold 26 million iPhones and 200 million iPods to date,  said in the statement.

French authorities have launched an official inquiry into reports of exploding iPhones as at least 10 French consumers claiming their devices had self-destructed. Battery over-heating is suspected. The state fraud and consumer welfare agency opened an investigation on Tuesday.

An 80-year-old pensioner from the Paris suburbs was among the latest group to complain after his iPhone screen cracked up in his hands. A day after a supermarket watchman claimed he was hurt in the eye when his screen suddenly shattered.

There have been a handful of reports of over-heating iPods in Europe, all apparently due to overheated lithium ion batteries. But the serious claims of iPhone melt-down have come only from France. None of the incidents has caused a serious injury.

The owner of the first shattered iPhone has refused to hand over his device for examination, Apple told Novelli.

Novelli , the minister, said that it was too early to draw a conclusion but that it was important to hear from Apple that two of the damaged French phones had been examined by an independent laboratory in California. They were found to have suffered an external impact.  

The 10 alleged victims, who range from a young girl to an 80-year-old man, have all insisted that they were using their phone normally and had not subjected it to any shock.

Apple's image has suffered in France with the media reporting, and even broadcasting, appalling customer service by the company towards the unhappy owners, the Times said.

The European Commission has asked all 27 EU nations to keep it informed of any problems, under the community's rapid alert system for dangerous consumer products, known as RAPEX.

Commission spokeswoman Helen Kearns said Apple has been very co-operative, stressing that RAPEX alerts were issued every week - sometimes leading to mass product recalls, but at other times with no consequence.

We're not there yet. We just need to monitor closely now and see if these are isolated incidents, she told AFP.

We'll be vigilant and if necessary we'll take further actions. But we need to examine the situation better.