POLICE have downplayed reports of a 'Golden Triangle' of car thefts in the Epping district, claiming such crimes have reduced by a third since July.

Concerns have been raised that wealthy households, including those belonging to many Premiership footballers, are being deliberately targeted in the area bordered by Chigwell, Loughton and Buckhurst Hill.

Around a dozen top-flight players are believed to have had their homes broken into and cars stolen in the 'triangle' in recent months, including that of former West Ham captain Lucas Neill in Chigwell.

He had his home ransacked, before thieves found his keys and drove off with his car.

There has been a spate of break-ins at the homes of footballers in the north-east of England, with many of the homes of Liverpool FC players frequently being hit whenever the team plays away games.

But a spokesman for Essex Police downplayed the thefts in the Epping Forest District, and said there was no evidence that footballers were being deliberately targeted.

He added: “We've been running an operation – Operation Phobia – since July which is aimed at tackling domestic burglaries and the theft of high valued cars.

“Domestic burglaries in the area were running at more than 20 a week with many resulting in the theft of car keys and high value cars from driveways.

“Since the launch of Operation Phobia in July domestic burglaries have been reduced by 31 per cent.

“As part of the operation to counter these crimes, officers have continued to stop vehicles that might have been stolen and the public should be reassured that positive action has resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of offences committed.”

However vehicle crime alone, in common with the rest of the country, remains a problem.

In August the Guardian revealed how Buckhurst Hill is now one of the worst areas in Essex for car crime, with a rise of nearly 20 per cent in incidents on last year.

In June this year there were 16 vehicle related crimes in Buckhurst Hill - more than double last year's total of seven.