A POLICE crackdown is under way as increasing numbers of visitors to West Dorset beauty spots are falling victim to gangs of thieves.

Now urgent warnings have gone out to walkers and tourists not to leave anything at all of value in their cars when they park to enjoy the beach or countryside.

Bridport section commander Insp Mike Darby is co-ordinating a plan to target criminals who are plaguing rural parking spots as part Dorset-wide Operation Wave to combat thefts from vehicles.

The thieves, some thought to be part of an organised group travelling across the South West who watch people lock up their cars then smash windows or force doors to loot any items of value.

Bridport Police and neighbouring police sections within West Dorset and East Devon have seen a recent rise in crimes of theft from unattended motor vehicles at beauty spots.

Since the start of the year there have been 33 reports of thefts from cars committed in rural Dorset, with hotspots at Langdon Hill, Cogden Beach, Eggardon Hill and Burton Bradstock.

As the holiday season starts overt and covert police patrols to high risk locations will increase, as will the tactic of leafleting cars in the car parks, warning owners not to take their valuables with them and to report anyone loitering and acting suspiciously.

Insp Darby warned that simply hiding valuables was not enough as the offenders were often waiting and watching.

He said: “Sadly, at this time of the year, when the weather improves, we see an increase in the number of thefts from vehicles.

“Thieves will pay specific attention to beauty spots, and other areas, and target those vehicles which have possessions on display, or when they see car owners try and hide their possessions.

“All they need is a few seconds to smash a window, take the items and leave.

“We do patrol these areas in marked and unmarked police vehicles, but catching anyone in the act is rare.’’ Insp Darby said a current tactic used by the offenders is to loiter in or around the car park, even hiding in bushes, and observe cars arrive.

When the visitors see the police signs warning them of the risk of people breaking into their cars, they hide their valuables in the boot of their vehicles out of sight trying to do the sensible thing.

“However, the criminals have seen them do this and then steal their items.

Inspector Darby added: “A lot of people who travel to the beauty spots are locals who regularly go there to walk their dogs or to take a stroll.

“I would appeal to these local people to strongly consider whether they need to take their handbags or valuables with them in the first instance as the act of hiding the property is what shows the criminals there is something worth stealing.”