Red faces over the electronic tag that isn't

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The newest device from Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, for fighting crime - the telephone-linked electronic tag - has run into trouble on its first day of use.

Unfortunately, the first offender in Britain to be tagged is not on the phone.

Until British Telecom installs a phone line, the company responsible for monitoring Clive Barratt, a convicted shoplifter, has to drive to his home in King's Lynn, Norfolk, and use a hand-held "radar gun" to check that he is still there.

Barratt, 29, was sentenced on Friday by magistrates in King's Lynn to "house arrest" between the hours of 8am and 8pm, seven days a week for the next three months. If he leaves his home, an electronic box strapped to his ankle will set off radio signals alerting a monitoring device attached to a telephone. This informs the monitoring company that the curfew has been breached.

The company Geografix, which is carrying out one of the three nine-month tagging trials for the Home Office, was yesterday arranging for the installation of a phone line at the Barratt home. It costs pounds 99 plus VAT to have one fitted. It is unclear whether Barratt, his girlfriend, Kim, 25, and their three young children will be able to use it for personal calls.

This is the latest tagging blunder in a scheme that is rapidly becoming a laughing stock. The trials, in Norfolk, Reading and Manchester, have already been delayed twice. On the second occasion, equipment in Manchester failed to go off when tested.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We expect the line to be installed within five days, during this time Geografix will visit [Barratt] at home several times a day."

Charles Rose, chief executive of Geografix, added: "We do not have a problem, everything is working well."

Barratt, who was convicted of three separate counts of shop-lifting and having cannabis worth 98p, has already breached a 24-hour curfew order. He was the first person to be selected after magistrates rejected about 2,000 possible candidates in the month since the trials began.

Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, whose members are responsible for assessing suitability for tagging, said: "This latest problem shows that high-tech gadgets are not the answer to dealing with offenders."