Witness Appeal: Bag Theft - Hoghton Street, Southport

Police have stepped up patrols in Southport and are offering crime prevention advice after several women had their handbags stolen as they walked home.

An operation is in place to catch the offender and detectives are appealing for witnesses after a 69-year-old woman was targeted as she waited for a train in Southport on Monday night.

The woman was walking along Hoghton Street towards the train station from the Little Theatre at around 7pm when a man approached her in the underpass.

The man grabbed her gold and maroon-coloured handbag causing her to fall to the ground. The offender then ran off past the council building and down Hill Street.

A woman working at the theatre heard the victim shouting for help and went to her aid. She took the victim inside and called the police.

Patrols, including officers with dogs attended and searched the area to try and trace the offender. He is described as a white man aged between 20 and 25 years, around 6ft tall and of slim build. He was wearing dark trousers, a hooded top which was zipped up, and a beanie hat pulled down low over his brow.

The woman was left incredibly shaken but did not suffer any physical injury. Her handbag contained a small amount of cash, a digital camera, mobile phone and various bank and store cards.

Detectives at Sefton CID are investigating whether the Hoghton Street incident on Monday is linked to several similar ones in Southport in the past week.

Last Wednesday (October 31), an 87-year-old woman was crossing the road at the junction of Beach Road and Westcliffe Road having got off a bus at around 4.30pm when she had her handbag stolen by a man who pushed her to the floor. The offender was slim and wearing a black waist coat-style top and a grey hat. The handbag is described as blue and made from leather and contained cash and various cards. A passing van driver came to the aid of the elderly woman, who hurt her knee during the robbery.

The following day on November 1, a 73-year-old woman was walking home from the town centre along Leicester Street at 5pm when the same thing happened to her. The offender in that incident is described as white, slim, aorund 5ft 9ins tall, aged around 25-years-old and wearing dark-coloured clothing and grey trainers. The victim's black and grey handbag contained a small amount of cash and treasured family photographs. She was uninjured but very shaken.

Then, at around 7.45pm on the same day, a 72-year-old woman going home from the shops along Bath Street had her handbag stolen off her arm by a man described as white, of slim build, around 5ft 10ins tall and aged in his early 20s. He was wearing a multi-coloured patterned top with the predominant colour being maroon. Cash, bank cards and photographs of her grandchildren were in the red leather purse that was inside the black handbag. She suffered bumps and bruises after falling over during a brief struggle and was left very distressed.

Detective Sergeant Tony O'Brien from Sefton CID said; "These are despicable incidents against vulnerable members of our community and we have stepped up patrols in Southport to provide a high-visibility deterrent and to reassure residents.

"In each case a lone, elderly woman has been targeted so one line of enquiriy is that it is the same offender. Extensive enquiries are underway to try and identify and trace him and I would appeal to anyone who has seen anyone acting suspiciously in these areas or elsewhere in the town to call the police.

"Street thefts are extremely rare in Southport and I would like to reassure people that we are doing everything we can to catch the person or persons responsible. As always, I would remind people to take very simple crime prevention measures such as not carrying large quantities of cash in their handbags, purses or wallets, keeping valuables out of sight, and where possible walking with a friend or relative when out and about late at night in poorly lit places at night.

"Anyone who knows who this man is should call us so that we can put a stop to these incidents as soon as possible."

Call Sefton CID on 0151 777 3055 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Keep your mobile out of sight when you are in a public place.

• Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. If you are at all unsure don't use it

• Be aware of your surroundings - is anyone showing a particular interest in you and your belongings?

• When carrying a bag or handbag, check it's closed with the opening facing towards your body, especially in crowded areas

Separate a little money from your handbag. That way, if your bag does get stolen, you can get still get home

• Keep your wallet or valuables out of sight. If you can - use an inside buttoned pocket in your coat or jacket

• If you are walking, avoid dark alleys, waste ground or short cuts and keep to well-lit streets where possible

• If you have a personal attack alarm carry it close to you and not in the bottom of a bag or briefcase