A MAN was ordered to settle a £3,000 mobile phone bill despite it being racked up by the thief who stole it.

Louis Martin, 19, from Station Road, Leigh, was  chased by debt collectors working for Vodafone, despite the mobile being stolen.

But after his story appeared in the print edition of yesterday's Echo, Vodafone offered to cancel the charge.

Louis had his phone pinched while on holiday in Barcelona and reported it to the company within 24 hours.

He cancelled a direct debit with Vodafone, but was still bombarded with messages from debt collectors urging him to pay the bill.

Louis, who works in a call centre, said: “I was out with my girlfriend in Barcelona.

"One night a man came up to us and said he was there on his own and was meeting his friends later, so could he have a drink with us.

“He bought us loads of drinks and the next thing we knew he’d disappeared with our phones.”

Mr Martin got bar staff to call his phone – but they couldn’t get through.

He added: “At first I was most worried about our boarding passes because they were saved on my phone.

“At the hotel there were power problems at first and I couldn’t get online, but I did tell Vodafone within 24 hours and they cut my phone off.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, when he visited the Vodafone shop in Southend High Street, that he was told he had £3,000 outstanding on his bill – thanks to the thief.

Not having the money to pay, he cancelled his direct debit with the company, but was soon receiving calls and letters from debt collectors demanding that he pay the outstanding amount.

He said: “They are saying the bill is going to go up if I don’t pay it soon and they want £1,000 a month – I’m 19, I just don’t have that kind of money.

“I tried to explain it to Vodafone on their helpline, but they’ve just fobbed me off.

“They said they’d get back to me, but they just don’t.”

But a Vodafone spokeswoman said yesterday: "If someone steals or finds your phone, they will start to use it as soon as possible, and it’s easy for a thief to build up high call charges in a very short time. So we ask our customers to report the loss or theft as soon as possible.

"The customer is responsible for charges up to the point they report it to us.

"However, we have looked again at Mr Martin’s account and it seems that rather than a straightforward case of fraudulent usage, this could be part of an organised scam. 

"On that basis, we have waived all the charges.  We’re sorry that we missed this initially, but it is an extremely rare occurrence."