CYCLISTS are facing a police crackdown because bikes are being used in crime. Operation Harbour has been launched in Darlington after cycles were being used by criminals to make a quick getaway from muggings and thefts.

Chief Inspector Graham Hall said officers were also aware that many bikes being ridden in the town centre had been stolen during shed and garage burglaries.

He said riders risked having them seized if they could not prove ownership.

Chief Insp Hall said: "We want to minimise the risk to pedestrians and we are aware that pedal cycles are being used in crime.

"They provide easy access and exit from built up areas in the town centre."

Darlington police have issued 31 fixed penalty notices to cyclists riding illegally on pavements this year.

People who are caught face a £60 fine.

Officers will also be visiting schools to promote road safety among young people.

Chief Insp Hall said: "Wherever you have pedestrians and people using pedal cycles there is a likelihood that someone is going to get hurt.

"But if people are flouting the law, we have got to take enforcement action."

Darlington Borough Council has decided that cyclists will not be banned from the town centre under its planned pedestrian scheme.

But Councillor Bill Stenson, who represents Mowden ward, said cyclists in the town centre were a real danger for pedestrians.

He said: "A lot of people are having a great deal of difficulty getting out of their way.

"It is a minority of people but they have to be stopped.

"People don't want to have to dodge out of their way."

A spokesman for the council said the key was to educate youngsters about the importance of responsible cycling.

He said: "Clearly we support the police in any clamp down on any form of anti-social behaviour and this is just another form.

"We would urge parents to tell their children to cycle considerately and safely.

"We do go into schools and have done for some time to encourage youngsters to cycle responsibly."