BT could withdraw pay phones: Coin gangs raid 1,400 kiosks every week

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The Independent Online
PUBLIC pay telephones could disappear as BT struggles to cope with escalating coin thefts. The company says attacks by criminal gangs now reach up to 1,400 a week. The culprits often hit 15 to 20 kiosks a night, travelling around in hired vans, writes Mary Fagan.

BT says they pocket an average of pounds 70 per attack, leaving the company with a repair bill for every payphone of about pounds 330. Should the company fail to foil attackers, cardphones (now only 20 per cent of the 110,000 public telephones) are likely to replace coin- operated payphones in all but the most secure places.

Speaking on Channel 4's The Goldring Audit tonight, Patricia Vaz, director of BT payphones, says: 'If we cannot actually secure the cash on the streets, the time will come when we will have to take them off the streets.'

In what could be a last-ditch attempt to save thousands of coin-operated telephones, BT is developing a new model which one spokesman called a 'safe on the street'. The new payphones are being installed and monitored to see if they resist attacks. However criminals have sometimes taken the entire payphone away to somewhere where they can break it open at their leisure.

Those who make a career out of stealing cash from public telephones often use car jacks, portable power tools and special templates to help them drill at the right spot to crack the lock mechanism.

BT is increasingly worried that the culprits are not punished adequately by magistrates.

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