Police warn of purse-snatching gang

Gangs of 'innocent looking' women with pushchairs and children are descending on Norfolk towns to snatch purses from vulnerable elderly women, police warned last night.

Gangs of 'innocent looking' women with pushchairs and children are descending on Norfolk towns to snatch purses from vulnerable elderly women, police warned last night.

The criminals, who police say are mainly from Eastern Europe, are being controlled by shadowy gangmasters who send them out to steal to order.

Last night, a senior policeman warned women to be on their guard - and said they should not be fooled into thinking that all women with children were 'necessarily innocent'.

More than 250 purses have been snatched from handbags in Norfolk since January - including 101 carried out by people from Eastern Europe.


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The crimes have been spread across the county, but in recent weeks there has been a spate of 12 snatches in Cromer and Sheringham.

Chief Insp Steve Jones said: 'What we've got is groups of Eastern European women pushing pushchairs. They knock into somebody and use the distraction to snatch their purse from their handbag.

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'I believe they are doing it under the control of gangmasters. They are going right across the county. People must not think that a woman with a child is less suspicious than a group of youngsters, just because of their appearance.'

He said the purses could provide rich pickings, with examples of women leaving their pin numbers in their purses and another lady keeping �1,000 in cash in her handbag because 'she thought it was the safest place'.

He added: 'We have a particular problem at the moment in Cromer and Sheringham, which are towns with very low crime rates.

'Because of this, people are not as cautious as they should be, and are leaving their handbags open with their purses on display. Women are being targeted, in particular vulnerable elderly ladies. They need to be vigilant.'

Chief Insp Jones said police in the towns were following the lead of officers in other Norfolk towns, by handing out cat bells to women to attach to their purses.

He said: 'We are giving the bells out to people who we think may be at risk. If someone takes the purse, the bell jingles and the owner notices it. It works and has prevented some crimes.'

In January, the EDP reported that sales of cat bells had rocketed in Yarmouth, with the town centre partnership ordering an extra 2,000 to meet demand as women sought to protect their purses during the credit crunch.

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