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Violent Britain: Officers branch out to tackle the car park thieves

POLICE in Cumbria are using fir trees to beat car thieves. Officers stationed at Keswick are spending up to eight hours at a time perched in trees overlooking car parks in the Lake District.

Wearing camouflage clothing they hide in the trees keeping a covert watch on the car parks. When a suspect is spotted, the full might of the Keswick force swings into action and cunningly hidden officers disguised as hill walkers swoop from the nearest drystone walls. The slick operation has so far netted more than a dozen suspects and earned the force much notoriety in the local pubs.

Constable Andi Yoxall, 25, is dedicated to the exercise. 'You've got to keep your eyes open - there's quite a lot going on in a car park. You don't get bored because there's plenty to see, so you've got to watch all the time,' he said.

Whatever the weather, if a car park has been targeted by thieves, the officers will be in action. PC Yoxall said: 'It's an all-year-round problem in Keswick because it's busy all year round.'

In the winter they just wrap up warmer. 'It's something that you've just got to put up with. If you've got plenty of coats on then it's OK.'

The thieves target country car parks because the beauty of the countryside lulls drivers into a false sense of security. 'The message that we've got to get over to people is not to leave credit cards and cheque books in their cars. People have got to realise that it can happen anywhere,' he said.

Sergeant Andy Wadeson, spokesman for Keswick police, said: 'It's by far the best way of tackling the problem. We are not exactly overrun with crime. It's just unfortunate that we have a problem with car crime in isolated beauty spots.'

Despite the lack of home comforts in the average fir tree the officers are strongly in favour of the initiative. Sgt Wadeson said: 'There's a general feeling that they are tired of the frustration of recording this type of crime and not being able to deal with it. It's a great feeling when you catch someone - there's nothing better than a job well done.'

Have they seen any scenes of passion in the Cumbrian car parks? 'I'm sorry we can't talk about those sort of things,' PC Yoxall said.

Fir trees generally lack adequate lavatory facilities - but the officers are still allowed to consume coffee and chocolate on duty especially on cold wintry days. The more strong-willed officers can hold out for the full eight hours - lesser mortals have to rely on the traditional country tree trunk.

(Photograph omitted)