A POLICE operation to drive out professional thieves from Lakeside Shopping Centre was carried out in a bid to end the recent spate of shoplifting offences.

As one of the UK's largest retail complexes, career criminals often think a day out in Thurrock is a profitable way of earning a living.

However, Essex Police is warning them to stay away unless they want to be "put behind bars".

Undercover officers were deployed throughout the complex on Saturday, September 29 to assist shop detectives and security staff, while a highly-visible police presence was displayed in the car parks and surrounding roads to deter car thieves.

Operational Commander, Sgt Danny Torrance, wants a crime-free environment for shoppers to relax in and enjoy the amenities on offer.

"It's very simple," said Sgt Torrance. "If you choose to come and steal from here, you will be arrested, charged and place before the courts for punishment. We will not allow criminals to fleece shops of their goods and we are not prepared for customers' lives to be ruined by thieves who break into their cars.

"As part of our intelligence-gathering exercise before the operation, we noticed an increased number of thieves from east London had been travelling to Lakeside and we would warn them to think twice before getting in their car or on the train to come to Essex."

Following the theft of several hundred pounds worth of products and clothing from various stores inside the complex, the Lakeside Area Policing Team joined forces with the retailers to put in place the operation.

A team of plain-clothed officers patrolled the shopping mall while uniformed constables carried out 21 stop-checks throughout the afternoon in a bid to disrupt the activity of those criminals who regularly visit the shopping centre and retail park.

Sgt Torrance added: "This is just the first of many operations we will be carrying out during the autumn and in the run-up to Christmas. In previous court cases, we have seen people imprisoned for shoplifting so we hope this will act as a deterrent and law-abiding people will enjoy their day out at Lakeside a whole lot more."

Although just one arrest was made during the operation, police were able to gather information on a number of activities and individuals which will be used for future operations.