LAST Friday (6th February) saw more than 200 people turn up to a public meeting in Osbaston.

Set up by David Davies MP, the meeting was in response to the spate of burglaries in the area, with senior police officers in attendance to update residents and answer questions.

Osbaston CIW Primary School's hall was packed with people who wanted to find out more about the burglaries. Police count 25 incidents in the investigation, all thought to have been carried out by the same professional group of thieves.

Detective Inspector Andrew Tuck, who is leading the investigation, was present at the meeting and updated those there saying: "I didn't expect quite as many people. Thank you for coming out, obviously it shows the strength of feeling which is really important for us to see.

"We've experienced 25 burglaries in the Osbaston and wider Wyesham area that we have linked together. That dates back over the last eight months.

"Predominantly, with the premises that are being looked at or targeted, people are out and a very high number of them people have been away for a period of time.

"The main way they are getting into the premises is going round to the back of the house and breaking a window or patio door pane. The main types of property that are being stolen are cash and gold jewellery, and earlier on last year we had a couple of cars taken with the keys from inside."

The police are looking for five adult males who are suspected of targeting a number of other areas in different regions. This has seen Gwent Police liaise with other forces to pool knowledge on the gang. For example, a series of thefts has occurred in an area of Cheltenham which share many features with those in Monmouth.

DI Tuck went on to say: "This is the highest priority area for us in Monmouthshire, and also features as one of the highest priorities in the wider Gwent force."

The police are using a number of different tactics to try and catch the thieves. An increased visible presence with uniformed officers is being combined with more covert methods such as plain-clothed officers. There are Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras stationed at each entrance to the area with the council's CCTV covering smaller lanes and pathways, assisting with the investigation.

The police are also adding two officers to the CID unit covering Monmouth and, for the next month, there will be a Detective Sergeant with experience and specialist knowledge in dealing with this sort of investigation.

"We've got people dedicated to this area all the time and then we increase that number for certain nights of the week when we've seen more burglaries in the past," said DI Tuck.

"That's more around trying to reassure you (the Osbaston residents) using extra police officers. We're using those in both the marked vehicles in a more overt capacity, and then you or may not have picked up that we've had some officers in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles as well.

"A marked vehicle might deter a burglary from happening but we've mixed that up with with officers driving around, and we can stop people who aren't expecting it.

"I know that several of you have rung in with suspicious vehicles which I'm grateful for, but a lot of those have been our police officers! Mr Davies caught a couple of our officers, he thought we'd struck gold."

Gwent Police Chief Inspector Matthew Williams, who was also speaking at the meeting, said: "It is actually a really valid point in all this that in order to do what they're doing, this group of individuals that we're trying to locate, they're clearly coming around at some point, during the day or during the week, to understand the layout and work out who may or may not be in the houses.

"We had the milkman stopped last week but it's great because we want to know if there's anyone suspicious. It's impacted upon not just the south Wales area but a bit of the west of England as well.

"We're grateful for you being highly vigilant. If you're reporting officers in plain clothes, that's great by us, as long as we get that report so we can check it out."

As a new member of the Gwent force, CI Williams has had a fresh look at what as been going on and supports the steps taken. He said: "I can assure you, without going into any detail, that we have looked at tactics we're using to try and catch these individuals and there are a number of non-conventional tactics.

"I can't go into it now but can assure you from an outside perspective that a lot has gone on over the last few months."

Residents were keen to not only have questions on specific cases answered but also wanted to see if the community could help in the investigation.

It was asked if there could be a dedicated phone number rather than just 101, as there had been problems with the speed of response. There would be hurdles with centralised data collection but it is something the police said they would look into to see if it is feasible.

There were also suggestions about putting up posters in the pub and on noticeboards with up-to-date information as to how the investigation is progressing, as one of the most common points of complaint is the perceived lack of feedback from the police.

A large majority of those at the meeting were signed up to the Online Watch Link (OWL) network, which is run by the neighbourhood policing team, but there were varying reports as to its effectiveness. Some said they had regular updates almost every day and others had barely heard anything from it.

It is recommended that anyone who is not on OWL does sign up and the officers at the meeting said they would chase up any complaints about the network.

Many of those at the meeting also encouraged residents to help neighbours out if they are away for a time. Small details such as putting bins away and closing or opening curtains were recommended as potential ways to deter the criminals.

Advice is on offer too for those who want to fit a burglar alarm and on other forms of crime prevention and bespoke help from crime prevention offices can be booked in with the neighbourhood policing team by calling 101.