TRAINING sessions to combat crime are helping to make Winchester city centre one of the safest places to shop.

Over the past year dozens of retailers have been taking part in the "ShopWatch" scheme under special partnership arrangements made between the police and city centre managers.

The training sessions were launched to help curb shoplifting and protect staff working in stores who may be subjected to violence or abuse by offenders.

Last week, retailers packed into the Guildhall for a presentation on dealing with violence - the final issue to be covered by the training programme.

All staff who have taken part in the scheme and successfully completed the training sessions will soon be receiving certificates.

ShopWatch chairman and manager of Boots Chemist, Peter Gear, said: "Violence is not a major problem for us in Winchester but it is still valuable knowledge to have should an incident arise. The welfare and safety of our staff is paramount.

"The value of the training sessions lay in the fact that the subjects were chosen by the retailers themselves so that they were relevant to their work," he added. "We would like to thank our colleagues from Winchester police for running the sessions and the city council for kindly sponsoring the venue."

City centre manager, Richard Nash, said: "ShopWatch involves the police, city centre CCTV, Brooks Shopping Centre and retailers working in partnership to combat crime.

"It is a successful partnership - one that brings benefits to the city centre making it one of the safest places to shop in the region."

A small working party has now been set up by the ShopWatch partners to ensure maximum effectiveness is maintained and that Winchester continues to be a low-crime city centre.