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Thursday, 6 January, 2000, 17:12 GMT
Violence threat to mobile phone pupils
Schools are being warned that pupils who carry mobile telephones could become victims of violent street crime.
Police have written to schools in the London Borough of Redbridge to warn them that young people with mobile phones risk being robbed on their way home from school.
They are asking schools to consider discouraging pupils from bringing phones to school in an attempt to cut crime in the area.
Many schools already ban pupils from having mobile phones on the premises, to prevent them from using them in class and disrupting lessons.
There have also been claims by a researcher that mobile phone microwave radiation could be a greater health risk to children than adults.
But police also acknowledge that giving children mobile phones can actually improve their safety, as they enable them to contact their parents or call for help in emergencies.
A police letter to Redbridge schools, from Chief Inspector Pat Keenan, borough liaison officer for Redbridge and Epping Forest, states that almost 38% of street crimes in the area are against school children.
In more than a quarter of these cases, a mobile phone is taken, and is often the only property taken, it says.
"Whilst many criminals are opportunists, it is not unusual for children on their way home from school to be targeted, sometimes by groups of excluded/ ex-pupils, or pupils from another school.
"In such cases, in addition to threats or intimidation, the young person's possession of a valuable mobile phone can lead to a serious offence such as robbery occurring", the letter says.
Some schools have sent copies of the letter to parents, to reinforce their policies banning pupils from bringing mobile phones to school.
Chief Insp Keenan said: "Many schools have got back to me to say they already have policies banning mobile phones, and that this is excellent evidence to support that.
"Mobile phones are valuable and do have status. Children are being targeted for them in the same way they were targets for trainers and jackets a few years ago."
Greg Deery, head teacher of Hainault Forest High School in Hainault, said he accepted that pupils carrying mobile phones could be a target for robbers, and the school had written to parents to say so.
"We ban mobile phones from school anyway, as we were having them going off in class, which we had to respond to.
"The number of phones among pupils has increased since Christmas, as a lot of them got them as Christmas presents.
"Hopefully it will settle down. At the moment I'm fairly sure there's a kind of competition to see who's got the flashiest mobile phone.
"It is a difficult ban to enforce, and we won't confiscate phones as they are expensive items and we do not want the school to be responsible for them. If a pupil is seen with a mobile phone, they are asked not to bring it into school again."
Sue Arbor, deputy head of Woodbridge High School in Woodford Green, said pupils were not permitted to bring mobile phones to school.
"If children do being mobile phones into school we confiscate them. They are expensive items which can be stolen, and very often pupils bring them in without their parents' knowledge.
"Speaking to some of our older students, it would seem that some people have had mobile phones stolen out of school.
"Children see no point in having a nice, flashy mobile phone if it's hidden in a bag or pocket, so I would think they are more at risk."
But Phil Bastable, spokesman for the Metropolitan Police, said that carrying mobile phones could actually help keep children safe, as long as they were careful where they used them.
"The advice we give to the general public is that they should always keep their valuables safe and hidden in public.
"Mobile phones are one of the items that are being stolen, but they can benefit children's safety, as they can use them to ring their parents when they need lifts."
He said he would not advise that children should be stopped from carrying phones, but that if they did so, they kept them well concealed, and did not "advertise" the fact they had them.
Biophysicist Dr Gerard Hyland, of Warwick University, believes that children under 12 face greater risks than adults from mobile phone microwave radiation.
He said researchers had found that a child's head was likely to absorb more microwave radiation than an adult's.
He said: "The brain happens to operate on the same electrical frequency as that used by some mobile phones. The electrical activity of a young child's brain is particularly susceptible to being interfered with as it is not fully stabilised until a child is about 12 years old, and neurological development could be undermined."
Dr Hyland said a child's immune system was not fully developed, and it would be less able to cope with an adverse reaction sparked by mobile phone radiation.
However Tom Wills-Sandford, director of the Federation of the Electronic Industry, says there is no substantive evidence linking mobile phones to any health risk.
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