ARMED police will be deployed across Hampshire’s busiest shopping areas during the Christmas period - in a bid to reassure shoppers.

Officers will patrol busy streets, shopping centres and Christmas markets across the county throughout the festive season.

Hampshire Police are calling the move a “precautionary measure”.

No details are being released about the number of officers involved or when the patrols will take place.

But a Hampshire police spokesman said: “We work closely with organisers of all large pre-planned events in Thames Valley, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to ensure the appropriate security plans are in place and this includes Christmas markets.

“We advise where improvements need to be made.

“We continually review these plans to make sure that we provide an appropriate and proportional police presence and that the right police resources are in place to respond to incidents should they happen.

“The public may see armed police officers doing foot patrols.

“This isn’t part of a response to any particular threat, it’s a precautionary measure and to provide reassurance.”

Hampshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Michael Lane, added: “A huge amount of police effort is focused on stopping bad things happening. The Constabulary is ready and stands ready if it is needed.

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“Our priorities at the front line deploy to deter, mitigate, and respond where there are identified threats, such as crowded places and events, and feedback from the public is that they are reassured to see an armed police presence.

“We can all contribute to our safety by remaining alert and reporting anything of concern.”

One group to back the move was Southampton’s Business Improvement District, who represent traders in the city centre.

A spokesperson said: “These measures, together with the City Council’s implementation of permanent hostile vehicle mitigation mean that city centre shoppers can feel safe while enjoying all that Southampton has to offer this Christmas, from the festival, flying Santa and shows to the ice rink, eating and drinking.”

Southampton City Council’s community safety chief, councillor Dave Shields, said the decision to deploy armed was “sad” but necessary.

He said: “My feeling is that it is sad that we have to go to these lengths to reassure the public, but we will be doing everything we can to make sure people are safe.

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“We want to reassure people and not frighten them.

“This is just something we do to at this time of year to make sure everyone feels safe.”

Forces in the neighbouring counties of Surrey and Wiltshire say they are not planning to use enhanced patrols in the run-up to Christmas.

A Wiltshire Police spokesman said: “Wiltshire Police maintains an armed police presence in the county throughout the year.

“While there is no specific intelligence relating to any threat to events in Wiltshire, the current threat across the UK from international terrorism remains “severe” meaning that an attack is highly likely.

“We’re working with event organisers and partners across the force area in the run up to the Christmas period to give advice and guidance on safety and security measures, taking into account any specific intelligence and the wider threat.

“Our long-standing advice for people is to remain vigilant and alert but not alarmed.

Surrey police added: “There are no specific enhanced patrols planned by armed officers from Surrey and Sussex police in the run up to Christmas.

“However, the public will continue to see trained armed officers on patrol as part of our business as usual deployment.”

The move comes just months after the Echo reported how the number of times Hampshire Constabulary deployed armed police reached a ten year high.

The figures, from the Home Office, show Hampshire Police conducted 283 armed police operations in the 12 months to March 2018.

This was an increase from the previous year, when armed officers attended 189 operations.

In October, the Echo also reported on the installation of new anti-terror bollards in Winchester - to replace the previous concrete blocks.

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The £125,000 barriers, set up at the entry points to Winchester City Centre, were jointly funded by Winchester City Council and Hampshire County Council.

Last year, Southampton City Council installed anti-terror bollards on Above Bar Street.