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Police have arrested suspects they believe are responsible for a chain of cigarette thefts

Police officers have arrested six men and two youths following early morning raids at 14 addresses across Southampton today.

Detectives from Lyndhurst CID plus more than 100 officers were involved in the operation which forms part of an ongoing investigation into a series of burglaries involving the theft of cigarettes.

All eight, whose ages range from 15 years to 29 years, are currently being questioned by detectives at police stations in the area.

During the operation officers successfully recovered a number of items that are believed to have been stolen from burglaries.

Prior to this phase of the operation six people had already been arrested and questioned in connection with the series of breaks which are being investigated under the police codename ‘Operation Clasp’.

Since the beginning of August more than 20 premises have been broken into in and around Southampton where more than £100,000 worth of cigarettes and other items have been stolen. They include convenience stores at Totton, North Baddesley, Eastleigh, Romsey, Colden Common, Chandlers Ford, Some premises have even been targeted more than once.

Detectives believe that small groups of around four to five at a time wearing dark clothing targeted convenience stores and houses in the early hours of the morning. In most incidents they forced metal shutters or smashed windows to gain access to shop premises where cigarettes and alcohol appeared to be the main target.

A few weeks ago Hampshire police had warned that there was a crime wave across the area in cigarettes thefts suggesting there was a ready market among recession hit nicotine junkies for cheap smokes, regardleass of how they had been obtained.

Detective Inspector Justin Norris who is leading the investigation said: “These offenders have stolen from sheds, homes and commercial premises across the county. I want to make it perfectly clear to these criminals that they will continue be the subject of police activity and their lives will be disrupted until they are stopped. The impact of their criminal activity is felt widely across our community and it will not be tolerated.

“I wish to thank members of the public for their support and encourage anyone with information that may assist the investigation to contact the police. We are particularly interested in information about people or addresses within the community that are known to handle stolen goods or buy or sell stolen cigarettes.”

If anyone has information that will assist detectives with their investigation, they are asked to contact Lyndhurst CID on 101 or the anonymous Crimestoppers charity line 0800 555 111.

Photo: ©Vjeran Lisjak