POLICE are urging small business owners across Wirral to be vigilant after a series of break-ins.

Large quantities of cigarettes, as well as other stock, have been stolen from newsagents, convenience stores and mini-supermarkets.

In some cases offenders have forced open metal shutters covering shop fronts.

In others they have climbed through or forced open rear and first floor windows.

Detectives are investigating possible links between some of the burglaries and are reminding business owners to make sure they have working security alarms and CCTV systems to deter thieves.

Detective Inspector John Griffith from Wirral CID, said: "It is important that local businesses do everything they can to protect their shops from burglars.

"The police are working hard to identify the criminals in each of these cases but deterring them in the first place is vital.

"In some cases force has been used to get through metal shutters but I would still encourage businesses to use them in conjunction with visible and fully-working security alarms and CCTV.

"I would also remind them of the importance of not leaving any cash on the premises overnight and of using all available security measures to protect high-value stock.

"It has been distressing for the victims in these crimes to lose thousands of pounds worth of stock as well as the cost of damage to their shop.

"We are doing everything we can to catch the offenders but people can help us by making life as difficult as possible for these thieves.

"These cigarettes may be offered to people for sale in suspicious circumstances - if you are offered them, please tell the police.

"We also need to hear about any suspicious activity or behaviour outside local businesses, such as people loitering close by without any apparent reason late at night or cars repeatedly driving by. 

"We believe the offenders are using bed sheets and duvet covers to wrap all the boxes of cigarettes in to carry them to their car or van - if you see someone doing this, please call us immediately."

Bob Gaiger from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customers, added: "If you are offered cheap cigarettes or suspect someone local is trading in or storing illicit goods please report it.

"Of all our partners, the public is one of the most vital in our fight against smugglers and fraudsters.

"Tobacco-related fraud is estimated to cost the UK economy £1.9bn a year in lost revenue. Don't let the criminals profit - report it."

Call Wirral CID on 0151 777 2265, Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or the HMRC's hotline on 0800 59 5000.