Jails in England and Wales can seek orders requiring mobile network operators to blacklist handsets and disconnect sim cards

New powers to cut off illicit mobile phones used by prisoners to run criminal operations have been introduced in jails across England and Wales.

The use of mobile phones by prisoners has long been banned but enforcement measures have so far proved ineffective, with more than 15,000 mobile phones and sim cards recovered in jails last year.

In recent years, one prisoner used his illicit mobile to arrange the murder of a rival gang leader from his cell; another organised huge shipments of cocaine from South America. A third even managed to import a consignment of submachine guns into Britain from Germany.

The new powers, introduced this week, will enable prison authorities to secure civil court orders requiring mobile network operators to blacklist handsets and disconnect sim cards.