Metropolitan police today launch a campaign to combat handbag thefts, which have risen to 1,000 a month in the West End. These cost victims an average of pounds 800, including the price of changing locks.

The police and Westminster council are to distribute 150,000 bottle collars with the slogan 'if your bag's closer it's bags safer' to West End pubs, restaurants and theatres.

Police are to step up plain-clothes surveillance in hotels, theatres, pubs and wine bars. They will also patrol 'dumping grounds' where thieves leave stolen handbags after taking cash and credit cards.

'We have queues of ladies and girls at the station each night who've had their bag stolen when the pubs close,' said Chief Inspector Derek Etherton. 'This is by far the most common crime in the West End.'

Westminster hopes the campaign will deter thieves and reassure tourists. 'Any capital carries with it a reputation for crime,' said a spokesman. 'We are saying that London has a good record and that thefts can be prevented really easily.'

According to police, the worst affected areas are Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Charing Cross.

The three-month campaign, which is part-funded by a major bank concerned at the rise in credit card fraud, is costing Westminster about pounds 3,500.

Fifty venues including the Swiss Centre restaurant, the Chandos pub near Trafalgar Square, and the Cafe in the Crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields church, are involved.

Westminster is also to subsidise the purchase of Chelsea Clips - anti-theft devices which cost about pounds 2.50 each and are fitted under tables so customers can secure bag straps.