MOBILE phone theft has become one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country, new figures show.

Across England, thefts of the phones soared last year, despite countless crime prevention messages from police.

In Huddersfield over five days of the Easter holiday 21 mobile phones were stolen.

Home Office figures estimate more than two in five robberies - 40% - now involve a phone being taken or demanded from a victim.

In 2000 to 2001 the figure was 28% while between 1998 and 1999 it was just 8%.

Pubs and clubs in Huddersfield town centre are favoured haunts for phone thieves, where owners leave phones absent-mindedly on tables and bars or on the top of handbags.

With about 51m mobile phone users in the UK, a special police squad has been set up to tackle the problem. Phone manufacturers have also been told to introduce wider measures for making them unusable when taken.

Although a phone can be blocked for use in Britain, it can be reactivated abroad with a new SIM card. Demand from foreign markets is driving the theft of the phones in England.

In West Yorkshire, a force-wide scheme aims to stop people making false claims about thefts. Those who do face court action.