HOODIE-wearing youths are carrying out smash-and-grab raids on cars in Newport.

Youths wearing the controversial hooded tops and baseball caps are carrying out the crime spree and making their escape on bicycles, police say.

Gwent Police are now appealing for the community's help to combat the problem as part of Operation Berlin - a major crackdown on car criminals. Police Constable Sally Jackson, crime and disorder reduction officer for Maindee, said:

"There is a gang of about ten children aged between ten and 15 wearing either hoods or baseball caps who are all local and operate around Corporation Road."

Describing them as "pure opportunist thieves", she added: "They know the streets and they know all the escape routes, particularly near the old Pirelli site off Cromwell Road.

"We've arrested them goodness knows how many times. We're picking them up at least once a fortnight or three weeks."

But police say it is difficult to gather evidence against them because they are wearing hooded tops and swap clothes.

PC Jackson said: "They use a break glass hammer or carry a stone in their pockets to smash a window.

"They are stealing lap tops, wallets and handbags. People are leaving items on display and think, 'It's never going to happen to me'."

She said the difficulty was obtaining enough evidence to prosecute them, which was compounded by the hoods and baseball caps they wear.

She said: "They know it is hard to describe them. What they also do is wear another top under their outer top and they also swap clothes."

PC Jackson said officers were using a combination of tactics to try to catch the gang, including stopping and searching them, and teams of plain-clothes police officers were patrolling the area.

Inspector Simon Jeffries, the officer leading Operation Berlin, is appealing to the public not to leave mobile phones and CD face-off stereos in cars.

He said: "A large number of mobile phones are being left on display in cars. It is like leaving a £200 bundle of cash on your seat."

He said thieves are also beginning to target satellite navigation systems.

Police are appealing to the public to contact them if they see any suspicious behaviour. Anyone with information is asked to contact Gwent Police on 01633 838111 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.