POLICE in Stockton have launched their Christmas crackdown on thieves and fraudsters who take advantage of the busy spell.

Both opportunist thieves and organised gangs see the busy shopping areas, with shoppers laden with bags, carrying credit cards and more than the usual amount of money, as an ideal chance to steal.

Shoplifting also increases at Christmas, with thieves taking advantage of busy shop staff and crowded stores.

Stockton police will be carrying out high-visibility patrols and will maintain close links with closed-circuit television staff and shop security officers. They will be supported by the dog section and mounted patrols.

Sergeant John Coates said: "Local police patrols will be teaming up with store security and CCTV staff in all the major towns in the district to ensure shoppers a safe and crime-free shopping environment.

"Shoppers need to be vigilant and ensure they take care with their purses and wallets, keeping them well out of reach from pickpockets. They also need to take extra care to make sure they lock their shopping out of sight in their cars and park in a well-lit area."

Stockton town centre manager, Geraint Williams, said: "We welcome this continued operation with the police, retailers and other services. It will ensure Stockton continues to be a safe and secure environment, where people can shop in a lively and friendly atmosphere."