The latest weapon in the fight against anti-social behaviour has been unveiled - and it has four legs and a furry tail.

Authorities in Croydon are to launch a new scheme - thought to be the first of its kind - that employs cats to catch out nighttime troublemakers.

A small team of feline sleuths will be kitted out with head-cameras as they roam the borough's streets as part of a joint initiative, dubbed the Mobile Evening Observation Wing (MEOW), which it is hoped will lead to reduced rates of vandalism, graffiti and other low-level crimes.

It is hoped the unusual tactic - which will employ rescue cats and strays - will catch out unassuming nuisance youngsters in the act.

It comes after a succesful trial scheme which saw five-year-old shorthaired rescue cat Sherlock patrolling the streets of New Addington through February - with complaints from local residents about anti-social behaviour falling 18 per cent as a result.

Detective Inspector Adrian Shalhoub, who is leading the project, said: "Whenever our officers approach a bunch of troublemakers they either scarper or play innocent.

"What's great about this initiative is that the cats can go about their usual business, slinking and prowling around as they do.

"Consequently the nuisance youths will go about theirs - spraypainting tags on shop shutters and smashing windows - not realising that they're being caught on camera by this ingenious kittycam."

But the scheme, offically launched today, April 1, has concerned some local pet owners, who fear the tactic of targeting stray cats could see their beloved moggy mistakenly enlisted.

Mabel West, 74, of Addiscombe, said: "My tabby Oscar went missing for weeks back in March. I had just about given up on him when one afternoon he came waltzing up the drive with a camera strapped to his head.

"He couldn't even fit it through the cat flap."

A council spokeswoman said: "We are always willing to try new and innovative ways to keep our streets clean and safe and local residents feeling secure.

"We are confident that this new iniative will keep anti-social behaviour levels low, while the omission of animals from minimum wage regulations means it will have only a small impact on our budget."

She added: "Any residents who fear their cat might have been mistakenly adopted onto one of our new Mobile Evening Observation Wing (MEOW) only has to contact us and we will be happy to reuinte them with their pet, although the footage taken by the cat will remain council property."