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Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Sunday, 7 December 2008

Police: Mobile phone payments...

Millions of pounds a year of taxpayer's money are paid by police to mobile phone companies in the course of criminal investigations. Using Freedom of Information legislation, we investigate the situation...

Mobile phone
Mobile phone companies have charged massive sums...

In 2007, police forces in the UK paid over 8.5m to mobile phone companies for information to help solve crimes.

There are 65 million active mobile phones in the UK (more than country's population) each with a unique number - making mobile use like a digital fingerprint.

Police increasingly rely on information such as when, where and to whom a call was made, or text being sent, to solve cases.

Sir Chris Fox, former president of Association of Chief Police Officers, Acpo, says: "The police use this type of information in every sort of inquiry, whether it be the missing person, or the drugs network or the gang violence outside of a club, the accident on a motorway where it may have been caused by someone actually using a mobile phone, or indeed at the top of the tree a terrorist attack, or the preparation for a terrorist attack."

Such information is provided on request by mobile companies.

Taxpayer's bill

Tom Brake MP
So maybe the mobile phone companies should consider this their quid pro quo
Tom Brake MP

But under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the companies are allowed to claim the cost of the research back, and charge the police, local authorities or government agencies.

Coming from public budgets, taxpayers are ultimately footing the bill.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman, Tom Brake MP, who sits on the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, says: "Clearly people will be shocked to find out that 8.5 has been spent by police forces around the country to obtain data they need from the mobile phone companies.

"What the mobile phone companies may want to consider is that the police have spent an awful lot of their time in recent years trying to sort out crime that's linked to mobile phones because the mobile phone companies didn't implement the very straightforward measures they could have done to switch mobile phones off when they'd been stolen.

"So maybe the mobile phone companies should consider this their quid pro quo."

FOI request...

Freedom of Information website
Freedom of Information...

The Politics Show has used Freedom of Information requests to find figures for 49 of the 52 regional police forces who, in total, spent 8.6m in the 2007/2008 financial year.

Twenty five forces spent over 100,000 and four spent over 500,000.

The Metropolitan Police Force was the largest, spending 1.4 million.

There is no standard fee for a search, and whilst it can be waived (and sometimes is) forces tend to be billed on a case by case basis.

Should it be free?

David Davis MP
Davis: 'This sort of material should be provided free'

The UK mobile market is worth 15bn annually to the companies involved but they do not feel that charging public bodies is in any way wrong, saying that it would be unfair to pass on such costs to their customers.

On the Politics Show on 7 December, Former Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said: "Companies should have a sense of civic responsibility, and in my view, that means this sort of material should be provided free."

Jack Wraith from the Telecommunications UK Fraud Forum, which advises mobile companies on this area explains: "We are required by that legislation to put into place communications experts in order to service the requests from the listed authorities as a matter of routine.

"And as a result, those people have got to be trained, they are auditable, they are answerable to the Interceptions Commissioner and if they make mistakes they are answerable by law.

Two mobile phones
Many crimes have been solved through mobile phone connections

"So all of these aspects require funding."

Given the crucial role in such important cases as Ian Huntley's conviction for the Soham murders, Steve Wright's for the Cambridge prostitute murders, and leads followed after the London bombings on 7/7, there is an argument that in the public interest, the data should be provided to police for no charge.

You can see from the table we have included what your force spent in the last financial year on mobile phone data.

Police force spending on mobile phone information
VAT not included
Avon & Somerset 190,793
Bedfordshire 59,381
Cambridgeshire 30,042
Central Scotland 27,750
Cheshire 130,000
City of London 40,086
Cleveland 80,892
Cumbria 49,306
Derbyshire 106,997
Devon and Cornwall 174,749
Dorset 40,102
Durham 79,534
Dumfries & Galloway 15,849
Dyfed-Powys Not yet available
Greater Manchester 766,619
Essex 124,942
Fife 23,604
Gloucestershire 9,542
Grampian 48,021
Gwent 118,555
Hampshire 307,435
Hertfordshire 326,229
Humberside 111,249
Kent 184,015
Lancashire 286,632
Lothian&Borders 95,918
Lincoln 93,005
Leicestershire 135,893
Merseyside Not yet available
Metropolitan 1,410,857
Norfolk 61,136
Northamptonshire 62,288
Northern 44,500
North Wales 31,840
North Yorkshire 188,139
Northumbria 165,813
Nottinghamshire 168,960
PSNI 150,379
South Wales Not yet available
South Yorks 276,405
Staffordshire 187,821
Strathclyde 245,483
Suffolk 86,851
Surrey 137,850
Sussex 75,759
Thames Valley 387,989
Tayside 41,524
Warwickshire 76,422
West Mercia 84,944
West Midlands 556,892
West Yorkshire 511,822
Wiltshire 96,486

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