MOBILE phones that take pictures have been banned from leisure centres over fears they could be used by paedophiles to take snaps of youngsters.

Council bosses in Blackburn with Darwen have placed a temporary ban on the phones while they review their overall policy on allowing photos to be taken inside council-run facilities.

The move has been backed by the NSPCC and police. It came after concern was expressed by parents that perverts could take pictures of their youngsters getting changed, send them to friends or download them on to the internet.

Photo messaging is the latest mobile phone craze and new phones allow images to be sent to other phones or downloaded onto a computer in an instant.

Steve Rigby, director of culture, leisure and sport at Blackburn with Darwen Council said: "The council's policy now is that the use of cameras or mobilephones with in built cameras is not allowed in changing rooms.

"Anyone wishing to take a photograph outside of the changing rooms must get permission from the duty manager and the childrens' parents.

"We are reviewing our guidelines to ensure that they are sufficiently robust."

He added that anyone caught breaking the rules faced initially being thrown out, but if were caught repeatedly, would be barred.

Police would also be called if anything untoward is suspected. Possible charges include committing an act which outrages public decency. A spokesman for the NSPCC said: "We recognise that this new technology can be abused and welcome the fact that this council is taking the threat to children so seriously."

Conservative leader Colin Rigby said today: "While it might sound over the top at first, the most important thing is that our children are protected."

All of the borough's leisure centres -- Daisyfield, Shadsworth, Audley and Darwen -- are covered by the ban, along with the Regency Fitness Suite in Blackburn and the Waves leisure complex -- which has been the scene of people spying on others changing in the past.

Last May, university graduate Simon Dean was caught using a piece of mirror to see under a girl's cubicle in the changing area of Waves, a popular haunt for youngsters in the summer holidays.

He received a three-year community rehabilitation order.

Councils across the country are being urged to ban photography in leisure centres altogether.

The Institute of Sports and Recreation Managers said it had written to its 10,000 members urging caution.

Chief Inspector Steve Gregson, of Blackburn Police, said: "We welcome this initiative because it helps reduce the risk of people becoming victims of crime."

Only Luton Borough Council has banned the picture phones from swimming pool areas.

Some schools have banned cameras from nativity plays amid fears that copies could find their way into the wrong hands.

No such ban was imposed by schools in either Lancashire County Council or Blackburn with Darwen control.

Picture phones are banned in Saudi Arabia and their use frowned upon in most of the Middle East.

In Italy, they can only be used for personal snaps and people in pictures must be told if the photos are to appear online.

And in America, they have been banned from cinema previews and movie sets to stop pictures being leaked to the Press.