POLICE and retailers are gearing up for an expected rise in Christmas shoplifting.

And those forced to turn to pilfering due to financial hardships are also being told help is available.

New figures released by Cumbria Police show a spike in offences throughout November and December.

The busiest two weeks of shoplifting take place from December 10 onwards.

Around 70 offences are reported in these two weeks alone across Cumbria.

Cumbria Police has said that despite some people feeling financial pressure, shoplifting is still a crime and will be treated as such.

And Cumbria County Council says if people are struggling that they feel forced to steal, the authority can help point people in the direction of support.

The police campaign will be run across several towns across Cumbria.

In Kendal, a special operation will run throughout December and the January sales rush involving plain clothes officers and high visibility town centre patrols to deter offenders.

Police also say 'Shopwatch' radios - connecting stores with each other - will be utilised to enable officers to communicate with shops about the movements of suspect shoplifters.

Police said specific locations will be targeted as well as prolific offenders.

Shops in Kendal are also encouraged to ban offenders and there will be a Distribution of a new ‘Lock ‘em in leaflet’.

The leaflet aims to deter people from a stay in Kendal Police cells and parodies a fictitious tourist accomodation brochure for 'The Lock 'Em Inn South Lakes'.

It has the strapline 'a convenient accommodation with lots of bars'.

It features photographs of the Kendal police cells, its 'delicious food' showing a small tray, sparse cells, 'ensuite facilities' and 'bars.'

It reads: "Within easy reach of pubs, clubs, criminal courts and prisons, a stay with us couldn't be easier. The atmosphere is truly unique. The accommodation is 'minimalistic chic' cteated for you with economy in mind, whilst the lack of natural light only adds to the ambience.'

"We never turn anyone away. When demand is high we have branches all over Cumbria.'

Under a section called Special Offer Weekend Breaks, it reads: 'Minimum stay normally four to six hours or why not make a long weekend of it? Get arrested on Saturday and stay with us until court on Monday. An arresting offer!"

The leaflet says The Lock 'Em Inn South Lakes was recently awarded 'five golden handcuffs.'

The leaflet was produced in conjunction with Cumbria Police, the South Lakes Business Against Crime Partnership, Action Against Business Crime, South Lakeland Community Safety Partnership and Bar Watch.

Police said those charged with shoplifting offences will be given bail conditions preventing them from entering commercial premises.

Superintendent Mark Pannone, from Cumbria Constabulary, said: “My message to shops and businesses this year is simple – don’t let thieves steal your Christmas.

“It may seem obvious but we do see a rise in shoplifting at this time of year, when the pressure to shop is very high. Shops and businesses need to ensure that they are using every method that they can to protect their goods, and they have plenty of security measures in place.

“We will be working closely with businesses across the county to ensure this Christmas is as crime-free as possible.

“We take any reports of theft or shoplifting very seriously. We work hard to bring those responsible to justice wherever possible."

“There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that there has been an increase in people stealing food and essentials across the country. This time of year can be difficult for everyone, particularly those who are struggling financially.

"While I am sympathetic to these problems the fact remains that stealing is against the law. There are many charities and organisations dedicated to helping those who may be experiencing difficulties, and I encourage anyone who is struggling to contact them for help and support.”

A spokesman for Cumbria County Council said: “Our Ways to Welfare Programme is available to support those facing crisis or severe financial hardship. People facing such circumstances can contact the community support team and talk to a trained social care worker about their individual circumstances."

To do so, people can call 01228 221100 from Monday to Friday between 9am-4.30pm. There are also further details available at www.cumbria.gov.uk/welfare

Anyone who has any concerns or information about shoplifting in Cumbria is also asked to get in touch with Cumbria Police on 101.