Mobile phone thieves claim 5000 victims

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MORE than 5000 mobile phones are being stolen every year in the Lothians, with a user being mugged for their handset every second day.

Now police and council chiefs are working on a raft of measures in an attempt to slash the figures.

New statistics released by Lothian and Borders Police reveal an average of 418 people every month are having their phones either stolen from handbags, clothing or on public transport, or being assaulted and robbed of them. The total last year was 5022.

In a sample of 383 thefts reported to the force during December, 14 involved incidents of assault and robbery, eight of which involved people under the age of 25. The police say that 157 of the thefts were reported by people aged 17-25, while 250 were over 25.

But plans are being drawn up to encourage people to protect their phone if it is stolen and help police catch culprits. They include an educational campaign aimed at schoolchildren to be piloted in south Edinburgh. A poster contest is being organised, and stickers declaring "hands off - security protected" are being produced.

And the city council is considering an education programme to inform all users in Edinburgh of the basic steps they can take to improve mobile phone security.

Edinburgh police believe many mobile phone users are unaware they can get an ultra-violet postcode installed inside their machine so it can be matched to them if it is stolen and later recovered.

Most mobile phone operators are also signed up to a national database which allows users to ring them with a security number which will effectively render their phone useless as soon as it is discovered missing.

Jim Baird, crime prevention officer at St Leonard’s police station, who has been involved in the pilot scheme drawn up by the South Edinburgh Crime Prevention Panel, said many mobile phone users failed to use either measure.

"We’re going to be running a campaign targeting schoolchildren which we hope will encourage more of them to both get their mobiles fitted with a code which will allow us to track them down if their phone is recovered, and also keep the number which can get their phone switched off as soon as it is stolen.

"A lot of young people are just not reporting mobile phone thefts and we think this campaign might change that. We’re also trying to deter potential culprits by letting them know mobiles will be useless if they’ve been properly protected. It’s a two-pronged thing.

"Every school pupil in the area is to be asked to design an appropriate poster and one each from the primary schools and the secondary schools will be used in the poster campaign."

Liberal Democrat councillor Marilyne MacLaren, a member of Lothian and Borders Police Board, has asked the city council to produce its own drive to promote mobile phone security.

She said: "It’s very good news that mobile phone companies across Britain have co-operated to help combat phone theft.

"A shared database will allow stolen phones to be barred on all networks by reference to a phone’s unique code number .

"This kind of crime affects all age groups and can cause a great deal of distress and inconvenience.

"It would appear that young people are more at risk from being robbed, in sometimes frightening circumstances, whilst older users have their phones stolen from the likes of handbags or clothing. It is important that this new initiative is widely circulated, and I hope that the council supports a larger information campaign."

City council leader Donald Anderson said: "The thefts of mobile phones from youngsters is definitely a growing problem in the city and the initiative in south Edinburgh sounds an excellent idea and the kind of thing we should look at for the whole city."

Last year it emerged that child robbers as young as 10 and armed with baseball bats were attacking teenagers for their phones.