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Telewest is still trying to hunt down a mucky phone thief who gained access to a number of the cableco's street cabinets in London to make calls to XXX chat lines.

The calls were made to two adult chat services - one featuring "older housewives" and the other described as "Live Asian 1-2-1" - during August. Details of the calls only surfaced when Telewest phone customers noticed that they had racked up sizeable bills to these chat services but denied making the calls themselves.

It's understood that those behind the calls racks up bills totalling more than £1,000 before they stopped.

Part of the investigation by regulator ICSTIS centred on the fact that the length of the calls made exceeded the usual 20 minute limit for premium rate calls. Datapro Services Ltd - which ran the adult lines - said this had happened because the calls were made by a "skilled engineer" operating in a "position of trust".

The company added that the individual responsible "would have had the ability to abuse the telephone switching network and could have dialled out on several lines simultaneously".

But Telewest said it was impossible to say who was responsible for the calls adding that any suggestion that it was an inside job by a Telewest engineer was pure "speculation".

A spokesman for Telewest said: "We became aware of a some fraudulent calls made from our street equipment in West London earlier this year.

"We immediately conducted a thorough investigation which did not identify a perpetrator, but resulted in cessation of the activity. No customers were charged for the calls."

Last year there was a spate of "phantom" phone calls by premium rate crooks who had apparently gained "illicit access" to BT's phone network. Villages in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Norfolk were among those hit, with punters fuming that they had been charged up to £150 for calls they had not made. ®

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