A MAJOR crackdown has been launched today by police concerned that travelling criminals see East Lancashire as 'rich pickings'.

Operation Vault has been launched after a spate of guards delivering cash to banks and shops in the area were targeted by gangs.

Police are worried that the travelling criminals may be planning several raids over the Christmas period as seasonal spending brings more money into circulation.

Therefore the crackdown, which sees dozens of extra officers drafted in, will run from today until January.

Automatic number plate recognition technology will be used on major roads to spot stolen vehicles travelling into East Lancashire from areas such as Merseyside and Manchester.

Officers also plan to work more closely with neighbouring forces to share intelligence. And meetings will be arranged with the bosses of cash delivery firms to offer security advice.

Superintendent Dawn Copley said: "We want to send out a clear message to would-be cash-in-transit robbers that this type of criminal activity will not be tolerated."

In the spate of incidents in East Lancashire this year, robbers typically used a weapon to beat the guard, sometimes knocking them unconscious, before fleeing with a cash box containing thousands of pounds.

The getaway vehicles tended to be abandoned a couple of miles from the scene and had often been stolen from the Manchester area.

Police have found the robbers extremely hard to detect because the gangs disappear without a trace.

They change from the stolen car into another vehicle in quiet areas without raising the suspicions of members of the public.

Guards have been robbed making deliveries to the HSBC and Lloyds TSB banks, both Blackburn town centre, Blackburn Road Post Office, Accrington, the Spar shop, Brunshaw Road, Burnley, and the Abbey National in Rawtenstall.