PURSE snatchers have targeted elderly women in a spate of thefts in Huddersfield town centre.

Now police have taken action to stop shoppers falling victim to the criminals.

In the town centre between January 1 and February 29 there were 17 ‘purse dipping’ offences.

In these thefts thieves take purses from open handbags.

In each case the victim was a woman aged over 70.

Now the police have been handing out 2,000 purse chains and the same number of ‘secret pockets’ for free.

The chains attach purses to handbags to prevent theft.

Secret pockets are attached to a cord worn round the neck and hidden under clothing.

Kirklees crime reduction officer Pc Mark Wall said: “The purse chains and secret pockets work as a deterrent and we will be handing them to the most vulnerable members of the community.

“In the first few months of 2008 we have seen a rise in these kind of incidents compared to previous years.

“However, we believe recent extra cash which we have secured will tackle this trend.”

Pc Wall said shoppers should always keep their bags closed, and carry them close to their sides, with the clasp facing towards them.

He added: “If someone does take your bag, let it go.

“It is not worth getting hurt for its contents.

“Your safety is always more important than your property.”

Huddersfield Town Centre Partnership manager Cathy Burger has helped to pay for the scheme.

She moved to reassure people about the safety of the town centre.

She said: “We hope this initiative will reassure people that there are ways we can tackle such problems.

“The town centre remains a safe shopping environment and this funding is just one way of helping to maintain that.”

Police handed out the chains and secret pockets at Tesco’s supermarket on Viaduct Street from about 11am today.