Police are warning shoppers not to give hand-outs to beggars in a town centre.

They say Shipley is being targeted by a gang of addicts who are scrounging cash from passers-by around the market square area and outside Asda.

Uniformed officers want to run the beggars out of town but need the public's help to do it, said PC Mark Scrimshaw from the town's Neighbourhood Policing Team.

He said: "Although the beggars aren't being aggressive they are intimidating. They particularly seem to be approaching more vulnerable people such as the elderly or women.

"We're getting lots of second-hand stories about begging but we need to get some hard evidence so we can make arrests and move these people on.

"The suspects we know of are all addicts of one sort. They are not using any money they get for food, it's going on drink or drugs."

PC Scrimshaw is urging anyone approached to get in touch with the police immediately.

He said: "The best advice is not to stop and talk to them. Refuse politely and keep moving. If it happens near Asda tell their security guard or just tell us.

"Shoppers or workers don't want to be hassled like this. Sob stories will often be told but they are usually embellished."

Sergeant Khalid Khan, also of Shipley Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: "Our town has been relatively free of this kind of problem compared to other towns but we have seen a recent surge.

"We believe it's down to a group of people who probably know each other. We don't want them to think Shipley is a soft touch and spread the word so more beggars come in. We want to nip it in the bud and keep them away."

Town centre manager Yvonne Crossley said members of Business Watch were well aware of the situation and did not want it to get worse.

She said: "Shops and businesses have a big part to play in this by also encouraging their customers not to give to these people and by reporting any incidents to the police straightaway.

"This is not what we want in our town centre in the run-up to Christmas or any time of the year."

A spokesman for Asda said it had also contacted police for help after a large number of complaints had been prompted by one man who "for some time had spent many hours hanging around outside the store asking for money".

The spokesman added: "Whenever we've received a complaint our security colleague has asked the gentleman to move on. Sometimes he has, sometimes he hasn't."

e-mail: kathie.griffiths@bradford.newsquest.co.uk