POLICE suspect a gang is travelling down on trains for London to dip purses in run-up to Christmas.

It comes after a surge in thefts in Southend High Street where shoppers have been targeted as they buy presents.

In total there have been four purse thefts or attempted thefts in the last week.

PC Martin Knights, town beat officer, said: “It’s a distinct possibility that they might be coming down from London on the train.

“I’m liasiing with a town beat officer in Basildon who’s also incurring problems to establish movements up and down the train lines.”

The number of thefts has been unusual for Southend, as the town centre had only seen 11 purse dippings up until November.

There has been a steady decline in the offence, with 34 committed in the whole of 2011.

One of the most targeted shops has been Card Factory where the narrow aisles make it easy for thieves to jostle into you.

PC Knights said: “I’d warn people to be careful with their purses and handbags. At this time of year it’s easy to be distracted and for people to be careless with their property.

“With the shopping environments people go into they are likely to knock into other people, because that gives the purse thieves the opportunity to bump into people and use that cover to steal purses.”

There was also an incident where a woman suspected she was being targeted by a pursedipper in Superdrug, and chased the woman out of the store.

Police want to speak to man and woman, believed to be eastern european, about the incident on Thursday afternoon [December 13] .

The woman had long black hair and wore a three-quarter length shiny black coat and dark coloured knee-high boots.

The man was about six feet tall with a distinctive thick-set moustache. He wore a leather jacket and jeans.

Anyone with information should call Southend police on 101.