UK

Crackdown launched as phone seizures in prisons rise in England and Wales

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The number of mobile phones being seized in English and Welsh jails has risen markedly, figures indicate.

Almost 15,000 handsets and SIM cards were taken from jails in 2015 - a sharp rise on 2014 and 2013 when 9,745 and 7,400 were seized respectively.

The government is launching a new crackdown to target inmates using mobiles to run criminal operations.

Prison authorities will use legal powers to curb mobile use which have come into force.

Under the measures, introduced in the Serious Crime Act 2015, prison governors will no longer have to physically find phones or deploy blocking technology to stop them being used.

'Take action'

Instead prison staff or police will be able to get the phones cut off remotely by producing evidence that a given number is being used illicitly.

"We are determined to do all we can to prevent prisoners having access to mobile phones," Justice Secretary Liz Truss said.

"We are stepping up measures to find and block them and empowering prison officers to take action."

The new powers - which took effect last week- will be overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

Once a mobile number is identified, the prison can apply to the courts for a Telecommunications Restriction Order (TRO) through which mobile networks can be instructed to blacklist the phone remotely - making it unusable.

The use of phones in prison has been linked to cases involving drug dealing and smuggling guns into the UK.

In January last year Alexander Mullings, 23 was found guilty of masterminding a plot to import sub-machine guns into the country from his cell in Wandsworth Prison.

In July 2015 Christopher Welsh, then 37, was given 12 further years in prison after he was found guilty of dealing in drugs from his cell.

Security minister Ben Wallace said: "Criminals are locked up to protect communities from their actions - so it is totally unacceptable for them to continue their life of crime behind bars.

"Telecommunications Restriction Orders will give us the power to disconnect the phones prisoners use to continue orchestrating serious crimes while in jail."

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