The police came under the spotlight at a fiery public meeting in which community support officers, a vigilante campaign and wanted posters were posited as solutions to Loughton's crime problem.

With reports of youths carrying knives and stealing bicycles having gained traction on social media and fuelled concerns over the summer holiday months, a meeting was arranged for Thursday (August 30).

Two hours before concerned residents filed into Loughton Club, Essex Police published a statement outlining its recent arrests of under 18s.

The sentiment was largely overlooked at the meeting however, where more than 100 mums, dads, grandparents, children and concerned residents looked past police for other ways to make Loughton's streets safer.

The club's secretary Marian opened proceedings and won a round of applause with her offer of refuge for the town's children.

She said: "I have grandkids growing up and I am scared for them. We need to stay together as a community because that is the only way they will listen to us.

"The kids need somewhere safe to go. Please tell your kids if they feel they are under attack they should come in here. I will make this a safe place for your children."

Another woman suggested shop fronts put posters in their windows, advertising themselves as a safe space for threatened young people and declaring "we are not going to put up with it."

She added: "That'd be a message to these hooligans."

A different poster based idea of pasting images of the suspected offenders to lampposts proved more controversial.

While some argued it would act as a deterrent, others balked at the idea of criminalising teenagers in such a defamatory manner.

If this idea split the room, then one mum's suggestion that parents stop giving their children expensive phones was widely disregarded.

"Why shouldn't we be able to give our children expensive things?" one man shouted out.

"Just because we are lucky enough to come from an affluent area."

A reoccurring theme of the evening was articulated by Matthew Holme, who argued: "What about the police man on the street?

"We need to have more resources not just from the police, but from the local government.

"They need to start stepping up."

An off-duty British Transport Police officer and Loughton resident, who asked not to be named, agreed.

He said: "There's not enough police. I know it. We all know it.

"We do not have enough officers and that is the bottom line.

"When I was off duty recently I spotted some suspects and followed them for an hour and a half waiting for Essex Police to turn up.

"They disappeared and later went on to burgle a car."

Cllr Steven Murray, town mayor and chairman of the meeting, echoed the officer's sentiments and pledged the town council's support.

He said: "The town council will seriously consider employing PCSOs.

"I think we can do that if we look at paying more tax.

"We currently pay about half of what they pay in Waltham Abbey."

Other ideas that found favour with the audience was that the Central Line was a key part of offenders coming in and out of the area quickly, and that street lamps should be kept on throughout the night.

The crowd's enthusiasm peaked when one man suggested forming a civilian action force.

He said: "Four nights a week I go to the top of Connaught Avenue and pick up the laughing gas cannisters while the kids are still doing it.

"The only way we are going to sort this out is with a vigilante force.

"That's the only was the police will pay attention to us.

"Fight fire with fire."

While the pitchforks will probably remain in the shed for the foreseeable future, outspoken mother of two recent mugging victims Jen Ward committed to making an online community group.

A similarly pumped-up Mr Holmes volunteered to start a petition and deliver it to Eleanor Laing MP in parliament.

A second meeting involving Essex Police officers will be held at 7.30pm on September 6.