Two heartless thieves who preyed on a string of vulnerable women in charity shops are today being hunted by police.
Officers today described the thieves as “despicable” and “disgusting” after they targeted tourists heading to shops in Cleveleys, fleecing them out of hundreds of pounds in cash.
They were even seen smirking as they ruined one pensioner’s last trip to the spot she used to holiday with her late husband.
Police said the 80-year-old victim was targeted by the thieves who snatched her purse containing £500 as she browsed in Oxfam, on Victoria Road West, Cleveleys.
Police are now hunting two women after revealing they had struck three times within minutes on the same day.
There are five known victims so far, but officers fear there could be many more who have not yet come forward.
Insp Steve Bell, of Lancashire Police, said: “These people are despicable. We will not tolerate it.”
Police say the thefts are part of a shameless spree which has seen them target elderly tourists.
The pair were caught on CCTV pretending to browse for bargains but secretly eyeing up their next victim.
Insp Steve Bell, added: “They are targeting people who are trying to support our charity shops in the area.
“They are trying to fund a good cause yet we have individuals who think it is appropriate to target them.
“We have historically had individuals come to Cleveleys targeting people in charity shops because they see them as easy targets - we will not tolerate it.”
PCSO Sharon Hill said five victims have come forward so far – but warned there could be many more.
She added: “It’s disgusting. The woman has lost her husband and then something like that happens. To lose that much money like that must be heart breaking for her.”
The 80-year-old victim, from Bradford, who asked not to be named, had been staying at the Parkwater Hotel, on Fairhaven Road, where she had been coming for years before her husband died.
But her son-in-law, who also asked not to be named, said the incident, on July 22, left her vowing not to come back to the Fylde coast.
He said: “She used to go to there every year with her husband but he passed away three or four years ago.
“Me and my wife decided to take her to the same hotel she used to go to with him and it’s shut down now so she won’t be able to go again. It was a special occasion for her.”
But the five-day trip took a bad turn when she discovered her purse, containing £500, was missing after leaving the charity shop.
“All her spending money was in that purse” he added.
“She had enjoyed the week until that day. Now she won’t go to Cleveleys again.”
After trawling through CCTV footage from the Oxfam store, police have managed to link the offence to a similar one two weeks earlier, on July 8.
Officers also say they believe three thefts at the nearby British Heart Foundation shop – two of them on July 22, just 10 minutes after the incident at Oxfam – were committed by the same women, who are thought to be local.
Four of the five thefts took place at lunchtime on a Tuesday, when Cleveleys is bustling with visitors who arrive on the coaches – a popular target for thieves. The other incident was at lunchtime on July 26.
The victims were all women in their 70s and 80s. One, a tourist from Scotland, lost £305.
PCSO Hill said: “These are only the ones we know about.
“They are preying on people out for a day-trip. They come to the town centre and visit the charity shops – because they are on holiday they take some cash. As one of the thieves walked out the door she had a big smile on her face – that upset me. They know exactly what they are doing.”
Anyone who recognises the women or has information should call police on 101.