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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 17:57 GMT
Should mobile phone muggers receive hefty jail terms?
Mobile phone muggers are being warned to expect tougher sentences as the courts try to crack down on a surge in the crime.

Offenders are being told to expect a jail sentence - in some cases of five years or more.

The tough new guidelines were unveiled on Tuesday by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf.

The clampdown had been urged by ministers, following a sharp increase in the number of mobile phone thefts.

Do you think mobile phone muggers should receive such hefty sentences? Have you been the victim of phone theft?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Our police force is so thinly spread and ineffective that street criminals can do pretty much as they like

Chris B., England
This rampant epidemic of mobile phone theft seems to be fast turning into a national sport in the UK - but apparently not so much elsewhere. Maybe we need to look at why mobile phone users in this country seem more likely to be attacked in public places than those in other countries. My own suspicion is that our police force is so thinly spread and ineffective that street criminals can do pretty much as they like, confident that they'll probably get away with it. Mobile phones are not the real problem - they're merely attractive bait, highlighting the fact that pedestrians are dangerously under-protected by the police.
Chris B., England

The prisons are full, so we're told. So locking them up is not practical. Although I wouldn't consider the jail sentences too harsh! Mobile phone theft is an epidemic and while I do agree there should be punishment for offenders I think it would be better in the long term to look at why these crimes are so prevalent among the young in this country. Perhaps there is a correlation between substandard education, poverty unemployment and poor parenting that leads to this sort of crime. Maybe if we address these issues with the level of importance that was afforded to the Dome or any military action we take, we may have safer streets.
Andy, UK

A minimum five-year custodial sentence should be mandatory for ALL first offences involving ANY degree of assault. There is no excuse for unlawful violence at any time for any reason. Or should we just counsel the offender, and keep the bleeding heart brigade employed?
Barry P, England

Yesterday a guy who stole a mobile was jailed for 4 years, while a bloke who killed his girlfriend while driving home after drinking 7 pints got 3.5 years. Also, where violence is used during a robbery, it falls into a different category of crime rather than simple theft. This appears to be no more than political opportunism which doesn't deal with the basic facts of poor policing, drugs and a lack of moral fibre in the people that carry out these crimes.
Terry F, Twickenham, UK

It is irrelevant whether a mugger steals a mobile phone or a handbag or even a bar of chocolate. The fact is a mugger has taken something that does not belong to him/her and in doing so has inflicted physical and psychological injury upon the victim. All muggers should be punished in the same manner. There is no room for double-standards.
Jennifer, UK

Yet again the Government reacts to the latest "hot" media topic. I notice that even in this correspondence, writers are using the term "mugging". This is another Government/media invention (like "joyriding" i.e. car theft). The crime is and always was robbery with violence. No matter what is stolen the sentence should reflect the trauma to the victim and should in my view be at least four years.
Ken Reay, UK

Jailing muggers for mobile phone theft may have an effect but it must not be seen as the solution. The manufacturers of the mobile phones bear a lot of the responsibility for their product. Mobile phones have made them a lot of money and even more money for the mobiles bought to replace stolen ones. The manufacturers should be made to play their part in cracking down on this epidemic (product stewardship). Criminals will always target the easy option. It is up to us all to play our part in making all crime harder and unacceptable behaviour.
Barry, UK,London

Whether the mugging is for a phone or a wallet the mugger (whatever age) should receive a tough sentence. Social deprivation is no excuse for this crime. I wouldn't mind seeing the thieves, who have stolen a large number of mobiles at my school recently, expelled. Mobile phones have triggered a huge rise in muggings as we all know. It's time to take action. (PS I am not usually a harsh punishment person but this really irritates me!)
Anne, London, UK

Would you like details of an incident in recent months where a sole male was attacked by a group of four males on a London bus who were trying to steal his mobile? He resisted and was dragged off the bus stabbed four times and left on the pavement. On contacting the Police he was asked what he expected the Police to do about it and was advised to go to Hospital. Busses have cameras on them I understand. Seems little point in Judges talking tough when we don¿t have a Police force who are in the slightest bit interested in either fighting or investigating crime.
Don Murphy, UK

Yes definitely, I was mugged outside a tube station. 5/6 people robbed my wallet, phone, jacket, and considerably knocked me about. I recovered my wallet & jacket which they discarded. The only motive for the mugging, according to the police when they arrived was the phone which I was using. I was one of 6/7 similar incidents that night. That was one area on one night in the UK. Its an epidemic that must be stopped.
Billy, London

Are there not much important areas of the law that need reform?

Lucy, UK
Why are they rethinking this aspect of the law when a drunk driver who kills will get community service and at the very worst a suspended sentence. Are there not much important areas of the law that need reform?
Lucy, UK

Anyone who commits an unprovoked violent act against another human being should dealt with severely by the judicial system and this should automatically include a lengthy custodial sentence. I also believe that we need to establish a new category in British law to separate less violent assaults from those of a particularly nasty or gratuitous nature. Anyone convicted of a violent assault, who cannot prove that they were provoked or acting in self defence, or especially in cases where particularly unnecessary or gratuitous violence is used, should be removed from society until they are no longer a threat to the public.
Steve, UK, Hampshire

The answer to mobile theft lies in technology. There are several things you could do, for example once a phone is reported as stolen it could be remotely disabled. Another method which has been successful in the Netherlands is to continually send a message to the phone saying that this phone has been stolen. The way these judges have reacted just goes to show how out of touch with society they are. They will be imposing sentences for mugging harsher than some get for violent crime or rape.
C Morgan, UK

This month a man abused 30 children and his sentence was 2 years. Yet no politician, judge or priest said anything. But if you get mugged for a mobile phone a law is brought in to increase the sentence.
Mark Jones

Here we go again. The press catches onto a 'hot topic' and there's an immediate call to imprison those responsible without any thought as to the cause of the crime in the first place. Frankly I am amazed that anyone would need to actually steal a mobile phone when you can walk into almost any high street mobile store and get one for free with no hassle. If you're of a criminal persuasion then falsifying a contract in the store presents no problems, and is far less risky than attacking someone in the street. Locking them up won't solve the problem, just create another - more petty criminals in gaol learning the ways of more hardened criminals, and so the vicious circle continues.
Brian, England

It is impossible to be too harsh on crime

Peter Hunt, England
A three / five year sentence, halve that and minus some more time for good behaviour. And that's if the CPS can be bothered to process the charge, or if the victim feels safe enough to pursue the case. Too harsh? My philosophy is that it is impossible to be too harsh on crime, though very possible to be too soft.
Peter J Hunt, England

All types of robbery should be treated with more severe sentences, not just mobile phone theft. What about the people who mug pensioners, they are just as vulnerable as youngsters, most of them cannot defend themselves.
Roy Harrison, UK

I second Anthony, Germany. Violent theft should be assessed on the basis of the violence and the injustice of the crime, not on what sort of objects were stolen. To suggest otherwise is to canvass for a very perverse form of materialism.
Brian Crabb, Wales

I really don't understand the distinction between being mugged for a mobile phone and mugged for cash or a flashy watch. The main evil is not the material loss, but the physical and psychological damage caused by an unprovoked assault. Being able to walk down the street without fear is a basic human right, so I agree with tough sentencing for muggers, whatever they are out to rob!
Anthony, Germany (UK)

All offenders who have committed a crime that warrants a custodial sentence should be placed in a "Boot Camp"

Chris Scott, Kent
I think that tougher sentences across the board are required. Further to this is the imprisonment itself. I personally feel that all offenders who have committed a crime that warrants a custodial sentence should be placed in a "Boot Camp" environment or made to work on a chain gang. This would make the penal system so unattractive to potential criminals, no more easy rides. I think more responsibility should also be placed on parents of the young offenders and also the owners of the phones. It's your responsibility to look after your property and your kids are also your responsibility.
Chris Scott, Kent, UK

Isn't it ironic that initially mobile phones were seen as essential safety precautions for both children and adults alike. Now it seems they are attracting would-be criminals! On New Years Day a young woman was shot in the head, and her mobile phone stolen. This is clearly unacceptable, and hopefully this ruling will help to put off muggers.
oli, England

Dean Healey has just been given four years for beating up Lee Staples and stealing his mobile phone. If he had killed him instead of mugging him, he would be out in two or three years. Where's the sense ? All this will do is to increase murders to avoid detection for nicking a phone.
Bob Deeney, UK

Perhaps before the Government start playing with laws, they should put a police service in place that is capable / can be bothered to enforce the law as it is now. I phoned them to report a bunch of drunken youths jumping all over my wife's car a few weeks ago, and they said there was nothing they could do until some damage was done. When pressed it was "we'll see if we can send anyone round". Nothing happened at all. Any sentence for a mugger is no good if they don't get caught in the first place.
Dan Post, UK

There have been more serious crimes where the guilty parties have received lesser sentences

Helen, UK
I think five years for nicking someone's phone is a bit steep as there have been more serious crimes where the guilty parties have received lesser sentences or got away with community service. I think that two months is ideal and only give five years if a driver causes a major accident whilst they are on their mobiles.
Helen, UK

Helen, UK - I'm sure that anyone who has been mugged really appreciates your flippant comment. Do you really think that two months is an appropriate sentence for an intentional criminal act involving at the very least the threat of violence if not violence itself? Any mugging is an intensely traumatic event for the victim in addition to the financial loss, do you think these poeple get your property by asking really politely?!?

Your comment focuses on the nominal worth of the phone and completely ignores the criminal intent and the effect on the victim. Mugging someone for anything is a horrible crime and the perpetrator is liable to escalate in violence as their career continues if they get away with it. Tough sentencing IS appropriate and should be used based on the amount of threat presented to the victim and not the value of the stolen items.
Peter D, UK

Does this mean that a mugger who attacks an old lady and steals her pension money will be treated more leniently than a mugger who steals a mobile phone? This is yet another knee-jerk reaction from this government. All muggers are filth and deserve to be punished equally harshly irrespective of what they steal since they leave all their victims traumatised. Muggers are simply bullies with a profit motive.

I think we are ignoring the other criminals in this scenario, ie those who knowingly buy stolen mobile phones. Without the market they wouldn't get stolen.
Chris Airey, UK

What would be much better is if the government would apply some pressure on the mobile phone companies to put immobilisers on mobiles as standard. The technology exists to put a chip in a mobile that will render it unusable with a call that costs only a penny to make and install. That would immediately make the bottom drop out of the mobile phone black market, and the only reason the companies don't do it now is so that we all buy new mobiles when they're stolen. Rather than be robbed twice just make the thefts a waste of time and they'll stop.
Ali Bushell, UK

Maybe we are seeing a change for the better with these longer jail terms. The next thing is to cut spending on luxuries in these jails, and make the prisoners work while inside and pay compensation to their victims. Make them hate every minute of it and maybe they will think twice next time.

The prison service is already breaking under the strain of all the other offenders

Andrea, Glasgow, UK
Never mind hefty prison sentences. Is it actually viable to lock up the hundreds of thousands of mobile phone thieves in this country? The prison service in this country is already breaking under the strain of all the other offenders.
Andrea, Glasgow, UK

Fine in theory, but how do we suppose we ensure that even half of those mobile phone thieves are even caught in the first place? At the very least we can hope that it might just act as a deterrent.
David, England

A serious crime, yes, but I fail to see the difference between a mugging where the intention is to steal a mobile phone, and one for other reasons. Does that make non-mobile users second class citizens?
Bob Humphreys, Canada

Bob Humphreys: I'm afraid that has already happened.
Vikram, UK

All muggers should get these sort of sentences whether they are after a mobile phone or just cash.
David Proctor, France

Halving the amount of money lavished on the upkeep of criminals and tripling their sentences would suit me fine

Matthew R Illsley, England
Law and order in this country is pathetic. I felt safer walking around New York City at 3am than I did in London at 5pm. Halving the amount of money lavished on the upkeep of criminals and tripling their sentences would suit me fine. After all the worker and taxpayer pays for their crimes directly in lost goods or damage, then in increased insurance and again in taxes to keep them in luxury in penthouse prisons with their Playstations and TVs - it's a sick joke.
Matthew R Illsley, England

A mugger once tried to grab my briefcase. In doing so he smashed the LCD screen of an expensive portfolio computer. That was in Joburg, but I would gladly throw the book at his imitators.
David de Vere Webb, UK

They have been warned. I just hope the judges have the conviction to impose the new sentences.
Caron, England

Very often, mobile phones muggers are very violent and armed and do not hesitate stealing from vulnerable people. They don't hesitate in pushing, punching or kicking their victims. They also often act as a group making it difficult for their victims to defend themselves. Muggers deserve hefty punishment for all the pain and hurt they cause.
Pascal Jacquemain, UK/France

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