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Friday, 7 July, 2000, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
Pikachu replaced by prostitutes
Pokémon: Not as shocking as the new craze
Children at some London primary schools have invented their own bizarre version of the Pokémon card collecting craze using prostitutes' calling cards.

The pupils, some as young as five, are obtaining the cards from the capital's telephone boxes in order to collect and swap them.

A Westminster council spokeswoman said: "We have received complaints about this problem from several schools but we are not disclosing which ones. This appears to be a London-wide problem."

Calling cards
Children find the cards in phone boxes
The council wants the government to introduce legislation to criminalise "carding" - the offence of displaying the cards in phone boxes.

At present, anyone caught placing them can only be prosecuted for illegal advertising, an offence which carries fines of between Ł50 and Ł1,000 for every card put up.

Westminster council also wants phone companies to bar the displayed numbers.

Kit Malthouse, chairman of Westminster's social services committee and head of the council's external lobbying, said the problem needed to be tackled as a matter of urgency.


He said the practice of cards being displayed in call boxes went back 10 to 12 years, and that they were aware they were available to children, especially those who walked to schools in the City and the Westminster areas.

"We've had complaints from a number of schools about these cards either being blown into the playground or being brought in by the children," he said.

"Kids have always been into collecting cards. In my day it was Top Trumps and there's been football cards, cigarette cards, Pokémon, and now sadly it's these calling cards.

He added that until about 10 years ago, BT were able to bar these numbers once they were displayed in phone boxes.

"That was proving a good deterrent but then Oftel ruled that this was illegal," he said. "Obviously, we want to see that decision reversed."

Police crackdown

Operation Spotlight, a joint initiative between the Metropolitan Police and Westminster council, is targeting the problem along with "squeegee merchants" and unlicensed food sellers.

An average of 13 million cards are removed from BT telephone boxes every year - 1.1 million were take away from 700 BT boxes in Westminster alone during one recent eight-week blitz.

Police say the people who put up the cards can earn Ł200 a day or Ł30 for every 100 cards they display.

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See also:

14 Apr 00 | Education
Schools ban Pokémon cards
09 May 00 | UK
Pokémon card crime
14 Mar 00 | UK
Boy card craze launched
18 May 99 | UK Politics
Crackdown on prostitute cards
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