POLICE are pointing the finger at potential shoplifters to help Durham stores in the run-up to Christmas.

Thefts traditionally rise as criminals take advantage of busy staff and crowded shops during the festive period.

Police are helping shops fight back by giving them details of convicted criminals and how they operate.

Gangs of shoplifters operate in the region and beyond, and the city is one of their targets.

Sergeant Max Newby, of the city's police, said: "This is an intelligence-led initiative and we are sharing information with neighbouring forces, because we know criminals travel about.

"We don't want to just move the problem on from one area to another.

"Retailers are being furnished with details which will enable them to identify convicted shoplifters, should they be operating on their premises.

"Throughout the campaign, our intelligence will be updated.

"Traditionally, as Christmas approaches and the city centre shops become increasingly busy, incidents of shoplifting rise.

"We want to make sure that criminals don't have a happy Christmas at the expense of anyone else.

"Hopefully the scheme will gather momentum and will continue into the New Year and beyond.''

City centre manager Barry Turnbull said the scheme stemmed from the North-East Retail Partnership.

He said that thefts from stores hit honest shoppers in the pocket. "Shoplifting costs every family £80 a year nationally," said Mr Turnbull.

"This scheme is a very positive step, as it targets the professional criminal.

"In Durham, the CCTV system is extremely good and the cooperation with the police and the shops' radio link is also good.

"This scheme is about using the information we can gather and sharing and analysing it to target specific people in specific areas, who use specific methods to steal.

"Shoplifters use the full range of deception to carry out their crimes, and they often also burgle, and there is also often a link to drugs.

"It is easier to catch people shoplifting, and if you do that you can clear up or stop a lot of burglaries.'