Anti-theft cat bells in short supply

SUPPLIES of cat bells to try to stop “dip in” thieves stealing purses of elderly shoppers ran out as worried pensioners snapped them all up in less than an hour.

By RICHARD CORNWELL

Felixstowe editor

richard.cornwell@eveningstar.co.uk>

SUPPLIES of cat bells to try to stop “dip in” thieves stealing purses of elderly shoppers ran out as worried pensioners snapped them all up in less than an hour.

Police and crime prevention campaigners gave away 1,000 of the small bells in 45 minutes in Felixstowe town centre, where they has been a spate of thefts by a gang of eastern Europeans in the past few months.

The Evening Star is offering a £250 reward to help catch the thieves, who have got away with thousands of pounds by stealing purses from people's bags.

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The gangs have a route across the region, targeting towns like Ipswich and Felixstowe every few weeks to carry out fresh thefts and then disappear.

But the incidents are leaving the vulnerable and elderly - already under siege in their homes from the worry over doorstep conmen - frightened to go shopping in case their purses are stolen.

It is hoped the noise from the cat bells, which are attached to purses, will alert the owner if someone starts trying to remove the purse from their handbag or shopping bag and the alarm can then be sounded immediately.

Crime reduction officer Keith Bartlett said: “We would continue to urge shoppers to be vigilant for this type of crime, but we felt the bells might help.”

Organisers of the bells initiative - police, Suffolk Coastal Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership and Felixstowe Crime Prevention Panel - were delighted and surprised the bells went to quickly.

They had to cancel plans to give more away last Saturday. The crime prevention panel has ordered another 1,000 and these will be given out in the town at 2pm on June 7.

Sgt Mick Richardson, of Felixstowe police, said new posters had also been produced for shops to display if a theft occurs - warning customers that thieves are in the town at that time.

“We will use the shopwatch system to tell all the shops there has been an incident and then they will put up the posters for that day only to make sure people are alert,” he said.

Police believe it is possible a large eastern European gang is carrying out the thefts but split into splinter groups which visited the towns and the same team did not return each time to a specific town.

They usually only carry out a handful of thefts before leaving and recovery of discarded purses shows they are mostly after cash.

Although some offenders have been arrested, the problem has continued.

Shoppers seeing any suspicious behaviour should report it immediately using 999. Anyone with information about specific incidents should call police on 01473 613500.

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