A new mobile phone database launched by the Home Office today, hopes to stop thieves in their tracks by rendering stolen phones useless on all UK networks.

The shared database has been set up by all UK mobile phone operators and industry watchdog the Global System for Mobiles Association.

As soon as a user reports his handset missing his phone can be immediately barred form all networks, using the phone's unique identifying IMEI number, which, once registered, will be stored on the Central Equipment Identity Register.

The Home Office advises all users to register their mobile with their network operator immediately to make barring easier.

"Home office research shows that mobile phones are involved in 28 percent of robbery," said John Denham, Home Office minister for crime reduction and policing. "Our strategy aims to 'design out crime' from mobiles to reduce their value to criminals."

The database comes hot on the heels of the Mobile Telephones (Re-Programming) Act, which came into force on 4 October. The legislation lays down a sentence of five years for those found guilty of reprogramming IMEI numbers on handsets.

IMEI numbers are found behind the battery or on many phones can be accessed by keying in £06£.