A PRE-CHRISTMAS crackdown on retail thieves in Durham City has resulted in a huge drop in shoplifting cases over the festive period, according to police.

In the run-up to December, a specialist team of officers was set up to liaise with retailers and others involved in the city's Shop Watch scheme.

By sharing information on known offenders and targeting busy retail areas with dedicated patrols, the team helped bring about a reduction of nearly 63 per cent in offences, compared to the same month a year ago.

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In December 2011 there were 61 recorded offences at commercial premises in the city and neighbouring retail parks, such as the Arnison Centre. Of these, 46 were detected.

But in December 2012 the co-ordinated action saw the figure plunge to 23, of which 17 were cleared up.

A number of known criminals, including some who were members of organised crime gangs operating out of Sunderland were targeted by police in November, and marked police vehicles were parked close to the most vulnerable shops at key times of day.

Sergeant Jim Cowell said: "The team has been so successful they will continue with their work at least until the end of March."

The six-strong team comprises three response officers, two from the local neighbourhood policing team and one detective.

In total 14 people – nine men, five women – were either charged, issued with a fixed penalty fine or given a formal caution for the offences recorded in December.

The 14 included two men and two women who are habitual and prolific offenders.