SPIRALLING thefts affecting Barnsley town centre businesses and nearby supermarkets has led police to focus their efforts on detaining four ‘prolific’ offenders.

Following a meeting held in the Alhambra Shopping Centre last week, officers at Churchfield station have drawn up an action plan to crack down on the persistent problem after Boots, on Cheapside, Asda, on Old Mill Lane, and Morrisons, on Westway, were identified as the three worst-hit shoplifting targets in the town centre.

The priority for town centre-based PCs and patrolling PCSOs became four offenders who are suspected of targeting the locations.

A police spokesman said: “The four identified individuals are all prolific offenders, responsible for high volumes of theft, public order and drug-related offences and public nuisance.

“Police resources will focus on these individuals as a priority and take every opportunity to prevent their offending, or to bring them to justice when they do offend.”

Toiletries, perfume, meat, jewellery, baby milk and alcohol top the list of the most-stolen items with Boots, on Cheapside, Asda, Old Mill Lane and Morrisons, on Westway, being the three main targets.

Asda, which has been a priority for officers on and off for the last 12 months, drew criticism from policing teams’ sergeants due to their insistence on leaving crates of alcohol near the combined entrance and exit doors, a ploy which the police said played into thieves’ hands.

Spokesmen from Asda and Morrisons confirmed security guards’ presence has been increased following discussions with the police.

Police now say stop and search tactics will increase, while dispersal powers available to them through a public space protection order (PSPO) - which covers Peel Street, Midland Street, Peel Square, Wellington Street, Eldon Street, Race Street, Peel Parade, Sackville Street, Market Hill and County Way - will also be used.

“Tactics such as stop and search and dispersal powers will be used when appropriate, and legislation to prevent and disrupt offending behaviour, such as the PSPO, community protection notices (CPN), criminal behaviour orders and arrests will be used where required,” the spokesman added.

“If the individuals continue to behave in the same manner they will commit a criminal offence and can be prosecuted.

“This is another one of the tools we are actively using against those that are causing ongoing problems in the town centre.”

Cabinet spokesman Coun Jenny Platts added: “We all want to have a town centre which is vibrant, safe and welcoming. The PSPO continues to be an important tool in making that a reality.

“We are working with partners and voluntary organisations to focus our resources on helping the people most in need, while at the same time continuing to address antisocial behaviour.”