Phone firms put block on 440,000 handsets to reduce thefts

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The Independent Online

More than 400,000 stolen or lost mobile phones have been disabled in the drive to reduce street crime, the industry announced yesterday.

More than 400,000 stolen or lost mobile phones have been disabled in the drive to reduce street crime, the industry announced yesterday.

Since mobile networks started sharing information on a single database, a total of 440,330 phones have been blocked, even if thieves insert new SIM cards into the handset.

A total of 700,000 mobiles were stolen in 2001, representing more than a quarter of robberies, compared with just 8 per cent three years earlier. The Metropolitan Police estimates that mobiles are snatched in almost half of London's robberies.

Ministers hope the number of thefts will be significantly cut by the disabling of phones, which can then only be used if they are illegally reprogrammed. Legislation introduced in October makes reprogramming an offence punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. The first arrests under the new laws have been made in London, Birmingham and Lancashire.

At the launch of £1.5m advertising campaign to deter thieves, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said: "Mobile phone users can be confident the police, the Government and the industry are committed to tackling phone theft. Police forces have already made several arrests in operations against alleged reprogrammers. This crackdown will continue and more operations are already being planned to stop those fuelling the trade in stolen phones."

Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said: "This is the first time the police, the Government and the mobile phone industry have all worked together to crack down on mobile phone theft, something we are all deeply committed to doing. The message from this new scheme is clear, that stolen mobile phones will not work."

The industry yesterday launched a phone number ­ 08701 123123 ­ for people to call if their mobile is stolen. This will activate an immediate block.