POLICE have warned thieves they will continue their successful pre-Christmas retail crime crackdown into the January sales.

Since launching their annual purge across Darlington town centre, officers have made 112 arrests and stopped a further 54 people for checks in relation to retail crime-related incidents.

The crackdown started in mid-November and the first fortnight saw 40 arrests - more than three times the normal rate in the area.

Darlington police have been working with the town's Crime Net scheme, closed circuit security television operators, British Transport Police and other bodies to reduce high street crime.

Detective Sergeant Alec Francis, of Darlington police, said the results were an improvement on previous years in terms of arrests and convictions.

But he warned: "It will continue through the remainder of the year and obviously into the January sales period.

"We haven't dropped our guard and we are still rigorously pursuing anybody who decides to use Darlington town centre for their criminal activity."

Det Sgt Francis said: "Out of the 112 arrests, more than 30 per cent were from out of town, predominantly the Middlesbrough and Cleveland area."

Last week, more than 150 shops across the town, including all the premises in the Cornmill Shopping Centre, were provided with new equipment to support the crackdown on retail crime.

In an effort to deter credit card and cheque fraud, people will be asked to leave a thumb print when making such transactions, using ink-free pads. With this scheme, which was introduced by Bill Lippett, head of security at Darlington's Cornmill Shopping Centre, and Durham Agency Against Crime, fraudulent card or cheque users can be traced.

This will add to the deterrents, such as bail conditions barring offenders from the town centre, exclusion orders stopping them from entering shops, and intelligence-sharing between the organisations taking part in the scheme.

But shoppers are urged to be on their guard, and not leave purses or wallets on show. They are also advised not to put bags down if approached by strangers asking for information.

Anyone who witnesses a crime, or is a crime victim, should call police on (01325) 467681, or a uniformed officer or security guard.