Mobile phone squad targets car thieves

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Police have launched an operation to combat the rising tide of mobile phone thefts in the capital, estimated at 10,000 a month.

Dubbed Operation Hellweather, it comprises a special squad targeting West London, such as the junctions linking the Fulham Road and North End Road, and the King's Road and Putney Bridge. These are well known 'hot spots for car thieves and 'car-jackers who rob motorists stuck in traffic or at red lights.

Police are stepping up patrols in vulnerable areas and using plain clothes officers to track people suspected of using stolen phones.

Metropolitan police now destroy all lost mobile phones which are not claimed by their owners within three months, instead of returning them to the finder, as is the usual practice with lost property.

'Every effort is made to restore them to their owners but where this is not possible they will be destroyed,' said a police spokesman. 'This applies not only to mobile phones found in the street, but also those left in taxis.'

The move, however, has angered some licensed taxi drivers who often find phones in the back of their cabs. They say that the police decision - which came as a surprise - reduces the incentive to hand phones in and contravenes an agreement stretching back to the 1930s, whereby cabbies can claim any items not reclaimed by their owners.

'I handed in a phone in my cab three months ago and went in to pick it up the other day, but they wouldn't give it to me,' said Geoff Magee, a black cab driver for 27 years. 'It's a rule for drivers that they get it back if no one claims it - this will be a real disincentive to hand phones in.'

The move is meant to combat phone cloning - where a stolen phone's individual serial number is altered by computer giving it the identity of another phone. This costs mobile phone users and industry over pounds 50m a year.

The police crackdown mirrors a similar campaign in Birmingham which succeeded cutting thefts by almost 50 per cent.

'The crime rate involving mobile phones in London is epidemic,' said David Savage, Chairman of the Federation of Communication Services. 'It's only a matter of time before someone gets killed.

Most mobile phone thefts are carried out by gangs of youths who sell them for about pounds 30 each.