FEATURE: Tips to avoid being a victim of pickpockets this Christmas

This is The West Country: Andy Sharman. Andy Sharman.

CHRISTMAS can be a stressful time, organising family meals and sorting presents out. But plenty of us are letting our guard down to opportunist thieves.

Reporter Daniel Milligan took to the streets with Andy Sharman, who works to reduce crime in the town centre, to find out what things thieves look for.

WHAT food do I need to buy? How many people am I cooking for? Have I forgotten to buy presents for anyone? Just some of the thoughts going around your head at Christmas...

But the most important thing really should be is my wallet, my phone, handbag and personal belongings safe because without those I can't buy any of the above anyway.

Andy explained: “We are all busy at Christmas with the stress of buying presents and getting things organised, which makes us vulnerable to being targeted by pick pockets - people also go out at night more and drink more alcohol around Christmas which also lowers your guard.

“People need to look at what they can do to protect themselves by taking simple precautions to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime.

“These people are very crafty and they almost have it down to a fine art.”

As we scout around a coffee shop looking for opportunities which thieves would capitalise on, it didn't take long to find a dozen or more potential victims sat enjoying a drink blissfully unaware they could be the next victim of theft.

One lady had a coat on the back of her chair and Andy explained how thieves could sit in a chair beside her, rifle through the pockets and then simply walk out leaving her completely oblivious to the theft until it's too late.

Handbags and shopping with expensive gifts were left on the floor and Andy's advice was if you have to leave belongings on the floor put the handles of bags under the chair leg so if someone does try to take it, you will feel it.

In the pubs, Andy said people will leave phones and wallets on the bar, chat to a friend and then it has gone and when using an ATM he said thieves can tell how much you are taking out and which pocket you put the money in - so if you need to withdraw hundreds of pounds, do it inside the branch.

Wallets and purses should be kept in front pockets and zipped up, and handbags in shopping trolleys are particularly inviting for opportunist thieves in supermarkets.

He added: “If you go through life thinking everyone has got good intention then you make yourself an easier target because you have to look at things through the thieves perspective.

“We have to try and stop this happening because if people become victims of crime then they will not want to come back to the town.

“We are very lucky that our area is quite safe but it can always be made safer.

“I want to get people to think about what they are doing and take extra precautions because if they do that it's another door closed on the thieves.

“It is all about narrowing down your risk and the best way to do that is care for your belongings in the first place.”

Andy, who works for Somerset Businesses Against Crime, said of Taunton's 700 businesses, only 90 are part of the scheme.

He said: “If you see someone acting suspiciously, then report it to a member of staff and, if they're a member, they can use the radio link to alert other businesses and the staff at the CCTV centre.

“Alternatively you can call the police on 101 or CrimeStoppers 0800555111 “But please report it because if you don't tell us then we will never know and won't be able to do anything about it.”

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust is another organisation highlighting the risks people face and offering them advice, action and support to minimise those risks.

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