Mobile phone thieves face tougher sentences

Britain's most senior judge signals that stealing a mobile phone must become a custodial offence
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf has addressed the rapid rise in mobile phone crime by announcing that those convicted of stealing a handset should face up to five years in prison -- or even longer if violence is used.

Britain's most senior judge also said that mobile phone manufacturers have an obligation to try and make phones less attractive to thieves.

As he increased the sentences given to two teenage mobile phone muggers, Lord Woolf declared that a more severe policy was needed. In future, Lord Woolf signalled, those who are convicted of stealing a mobile phone should face imprisonment of between 18 months and five years.

This policy change would make the stealing of a mobile phone a custodial offence, even if the crime were the offender's first conviction.

One of the thieves, who had originally been sentenced to six months in a young offenders institution, had his sentence raised to three and a half years. The other mugger received two and a half years, having originally been given an 18-month rehabilitation order and 16 hours community service.

The Attorney General had referred the cases to the Appeals Court because he felt the original sentences were unduly lenient -- a view shared by Lord Woolf.

The recent boom in mobile phone use has been mirrored by a rise in handset thefts -- a trend identified by police forces, the government and consumer pressure groups. Over a year ago, Jack Straw called on the mobile phone industry to work with the police to combat mobile theft.

The then home secretary was rebuffed by BT Cellnet, who insisted that the mobile industry already took the issue seriously.

The Home Office is understood to be angry that mobile firms aren't doing more, though. It would like to see technology introduced that would allow a stolen handset to be permanently disabled -- making it a much less tempting target to thieves.

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