Opinion divided over London Mayor’s demand for industry to do more about phone theft

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is calling on the mobile phone industry to help reduce phone theft in the capital – which one industry insider says is “like blaming Kellogg’s for people shoplifting at Tesco”.

Khan (pictured) and Met Commissioner Mark Rowley called on operators and device manufacturers to “play their part and deliver bold and innovative technological solutions to help tackle the rising number of robberies in the capital,” in an announcement this morning.

It stated “more can be and should be done” by the mobile phone industry to make it harder for stolen phones to be sold on, repurposed by vendors and re-used illegally. As such they are urging leading mobile phone providers and manufacturers to work with City Hall and the Met to ‘design out’ the theft of mobile phones.

They have today jointly written to leading firms in the industry and invited them to attend a roundtable discussion about how to find ‘the most effective deterrent’ to mobile phone robberies in London and elsewhere. By way of comparison, the announcement references the ‘successful precedent’ of car manufacturers working with police to reduce the thefts of car radios and sat navs by integrating them into dashboards.

Mobile UK – a trade association for the UK mobile network operators – confirmed to it has seen the letter on behalf of its members (Three, EE, Virgin Media O2 and Vodafone), and that it awaits further information about the roundtable.

A Mobile UK spokesperson told us: “Mobile operators have in place measures to combat the theft of mobile phones. We welcome the opportunity to work with The Met, the Mayor’s office, device manufacturers and the wider industry to continue to reduce this crime further.”

However one source at a UK operator, on condition of anonymity told “Suggesting mobile phone operators aren’t doing enough to tackle street robbery is like blaming Kellogg’s for people shoplifting at Tesco. The Met doesn’t understand the problem and the Mayor needs to get a grip rather than asking the mobile industry to tackle his shortcomings.”

The announcement does make a distinction between mobile phone providers, which appears to mean the above mentioned operators, and the phone manufacturers themselves. The London Mayor’s office has confirmed to that, as well as the four UK operators, the invite list of the round table also includes Apple, Samsung, Google, Motorola, Nokia, and Huawei.

The announcement references new figures claiming 38% of all personal robberies last year – equating to more than 9,500 offences – involved a phone being stolen, and nearly 70% of all thefts in London last year related to mobile phones.

It’s not crystal clear what the distinction between these two stats is but the inference is that following a period of decline during the pandemic, the number of people being robbed for their phones in London (and nationally) is rising. We’re told that so far in 2023 there has been a 27% increase in theft from person offences involving a mobile phone

“I’m committed to continue building a safer city for all Londoners by being tough on violence and tough on its complex causes,” said Khan. “We have made progress with homicides, knife crime with injury and gun crime having fallen since 2016. But despite the support we’re providing young Londoners during the holidays and beyond, the spiralling cost-of-living threatens to exacerbate the drivers of violence and robberies which we know disproportionately impact young people.

“It’s simply too easy and profitable for criminals right now to repurpose and sell on stolen phones. That’s why, alongside strengthening neighbourhood policing and record investment in supporting the police to go after the worst offenders the Commissioner and I are calling on the mobile phone industry to work with us and play their part in reducing robberies and thefts involving mobile phones.”

Rowley added: “The current practice of allowing stolen mobiles to be re-registered by new users within the phone industry inadvertently enables a criminal market which drives, robbery, thefts and violent offending in London. We need partners to step up to the plate and work alongside us to break this cycle of violence fuelled by the ability of mobile phones to be re-purposed and sold on in this way.

“Our work to drive down violence in all its forms across London continues. We’re building the strongest neighbourhood policing offer we’ve ever had, using data and technology to target hotspots, and arresting those handling stolen devices wherever and whenever we can. But we’ve been really clear there are root causes of violence we cannot tackle alone. Until we are working jointly with industry to remove the ability for phones to be used in this way, Londoners will continue to fall victim to those who will not hesitate to use violence to steal from them.”

Claire Waxman, London’s Independent Victims’ Commissioner, added that: “We need a long-term solution to the menace of mobile phone crime and the industry have a unique role and opportunity now to work with us to develop innovative deterrents that can prevent more people falling victim to this awful crime.”

The stats are certainly alarming, and in one sense it’s good to see some form of attention given to what is clearly a growing problem. But this call for telcos to ‘play their part in reducing robberies’ seems to be based on a premise that the problem is with the products being stolen themselves, and that the solution is an a technological one, as yet to be defined by the companies being summoned.

So it’s on the operators, who don’t make the phones, and the manufacturers, none of which are UK firms, to find a solution to street muggings in London – which is one way of making rising crime about something other than actual policing and less than inspiring arrest rates of reported crimes – which has come under scrutiny of late.

We will have to see what comes out of this roundtable with regards to what technological solutions can be brainstormed and how much that might deter muggings going forward – but the tone and essence of the whole announcement could certainly be described as passing the buck.


Image courtesy of Greater London Authority.


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  1. Avatar Argo 09/08/2023 @ 1:50 pm

    If you tell the operator or the police the IMEI of your stolen phone, it gets put on a blacklist and can’t be used on any network signed up to the CEIR database. Which is pretty much every network in Europe. If stolen phones are being reused, they’re being taken outside that area. Unclear what a handset vendor or network operator is supposed to do about that.

    Oh, and good luck getting support from Huawei after the UK branded them a security threat.

  2. Avatar Tom Smith 10/08/2023 @ 7:52 am

    There is already a method to stop handsets from being reused (EIR). I am not sure why the operators are saying there is nothing they can do.

  3. Avatar Guillaume 10/08/2023 @ 11:16 am

    I guess the main issue is that only a few people know about the IMEI blacklist.
    And even fewer people keep the sticker where it’s written…

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