SHOPPERS are warned to be on their guard after reports of town centre yobs hurling cans at strangers.

Groups of people have been spotted gathering in Town Square and St Martin’s Square, Basildon, to drink and cause a nuisance - despite the area being an alcohol free zone.

Former councillor Pat Rackley told how she and husband Phil were targeted as they walked past the antisocial drinkers.

They both escaped unharmed but fear the safety of shoppers is being put at risk.

She urged Basildon Council to crackdown by using bylaws which ban alcohol consumption in the town centre.

Mrs Rackley, of Devonshire Road, Laindon, said: “I think it’s terrible really, and we need to be making it clear that it isn’t acceptable and is in breach of the laws.

“People use the town centre for shopping and it should be made as welcoming and safe for them as possible.

“We’ve had this problem for a while now, and that’s when the exclusion zone was set up.

“Just when we thought it had quietened down, it seems to have come back all over again.

“That’s why we need to stamp it out as quickly as possible.”

In 2011, antisocial drinkers were accused of blighting the town after a number of high-profile incidents in and around St Martin’s Square.

A group of drunks burst into the council headquarters on one occasion and threatened staff.

Members of the public also reported being harassed and feeling intimidated.

It led to a series of designated public places orders being brought into force in January 2012, banning alcohol consumption in areas around the town centre, including Town Square.

Punishment for breaching an order includes a £50 for disorder and even arr3est and prosecution. If a case goes to court, people in breach of the order could be fined £500 and be banned from entering the town centre or drinking anywhere classed as a public place.

Phil Turner, leader of Basildon Council, said he has “100 per cent confidence” the authority will be able to put a stop to the nuisance behaviour by using CCTV.

He said: “It’s extremely frustrating that our shoppers are being targeted and if any have been assaulted, then they should be contacting the police.

“We have cameras there to pick all of this up, and I am sure that our council officers will make sure it’s something that won’t spread any further and these drinkers will be moved on.

“There is so much that we as a council are trying to do in the area such as regenerating Freedom House so it’s important in the long term we keep it clear and troublefree.

“This behaviour is not tolerated at all and it’s very disappointing.”