UNDERCOVER police are being stationed outside Croydon's schools due to a dramatic rise in the number of children being mugged for their phones.
Figures obtained by the Advertiser show 1,497 phones – more than four a day – were stolen on streets across Croydon last year, up 52 per cent from 2010, with 10 to 17-year-old schoolchildren the largest victim group.
More than a third of all phone robbery victims – 35 per cent – are between 10 and 17, which has risen as increasing numbers carry the latest, most valuable smartphones.
The figures show Apple iPhones and BlackBerrys – worth hundreds of pounds – are the two most stolen brands overall, with Samsungs in third.
Schoolchildren are considered an easy target who will not put up a fight against older muggers, according to the Met, which is stationing undercover officers outside schools and along children's routes home to tackle the epidemic.
Detective Inspector Brian Hobbs, who heads up Croydon's robbery department, said muggers, who often threaten physical violence, follow schoolchildren after seeing them talking or texting on their journey home. Sometimes they are even threatened with knives.
He said: "It is fair to say we have been aware of this problem for some time. These phones are like a red rag to a bull for these criminals, who see schoolchildren as an easy target, especially if they are walking alone or in a small group.
"What tends to happen is they will be targeted by a group of older youths who will follow them and often use physical violence.
"They pick on schoolchildren for a reason. They know where they're going to be and at what time. They're easy pickings. We recently had a series of these incidents around the Brit School, but it is happening at schools across the borough.
"The availability of the valuable phones has become more widespread with people being able to get them on cheap contracts, that's one of the factors. It is ironic that parents think it is making their children safer to have a phone, but it can make them more of a target."
Det Insp Hobbs advised children not to use their phones in public unless in an emergency, while parents should consider giving their loved-ones cheaper models.
Of all male robbery victims, 42 per cent were between 10 and 17 while 21 per cent of all female victims were in that age group. Hundreds more are the victim of thefts, including pickpocketing or "bag dipping".
The figures also show 18 to 30-year-olds are the second largest victim group of phone robberies – 32 per cent overall.
Alison Thomas, 40, whose 12-year-old son, Sidney, was pounced on by three youths for his BlackBerry while on his way home from school last week, said the ordeal has affected him psychologically.
Ms Thomas said: "I think it's disgusting that schoolchildren are being targeted because they are easy prey. It makes me sick to be honest and I think the people doing it are cowards. My son is only little."Victim demographics for personal robbery:
- Across all three years, 67 per cent of victims are male and 33 per cent female;
- About 45 per cent of victims are white, 22 per cent black, 21 per cent Asian and 12 per cent other;
- Of the male victims, 42 per cent are aged 10 to 17, 32 per cent are aged 18 to 30 and 11 per cent are 31 to 40;
- Of the female victims, 32 per cent are 18 to 30, 21 per cent are 10 to 17 and 18 per cent are 31 to 40; and
- Overall, 35 per cent of victims are aged 10 to 17 and 32 per cent are 18 to 30.