Bobbies on the beat are using picture cards to help them gather vital evidence from people who cannot speak English.

Victims of crime can be shown the cards to help officers put together a suspect’s description without having to wait for a translator.

The scheme is being piloted in Arundel, Bognor and Littlehampton to help serve the thousands of Eastern European migrant workers living in the area.

Sergeant Danny West, whose idea it was to use the cards, said they could also help in areas with large numbers of foreign students or other situations where communication is difficult.

The cards are produced by a company called Pocket Comms, based in Coventry. They include sets of symbols which people can point to instead of having to speak the same language.

The pilot scheme began in the police’s Arun district in July.

Sgt West said: “Within a week of me putting it out to a selection of officers, a Polish woman tried to tell us she had been assaulted in very limited English.

”We needed to get a description immediately in case the suspect was still close by.

“There are cards for eye colour, hair colour and height and we were able to get a description and alert officers in the area.”

At the moment the company only produces all-purpose cards aimed at tourists. They were invented by former soldier Jim Wyatt, who used sketches to communicate with people while serving in Afghanistan.

If the trial with the Arun neighbourhood specialist teams is successful, Sgt West plans to work with designers to produce cards specifically for the force.

He said: “When somebody is subject to an offence they might be quite stressed. Even if they speak some English it might affect the way they communicate.”

He believes the idea could also be used for other people who might have difficulty communicating. These could include young children and people with learning disabilities or conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

He plans to carry out a survey of officers to find out how effective the cards have proved but believes they have the potential to be useful across the whole county and within other forces.

Councillor Norman Dingemans, a member of Arun District Council’s cabinet, said the idea could provide a model for other organisations working with non-English speakers.

He said: “It sounds like a good initiative. I’m sure the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership will support it. Arun will do what it can to help integrate the migrant community.”

The expansion of the European Union in 2004 and the flow of Eastern European workers into the country which followed has proved a challenge to Sussex Police.

The force spent £102,000 on translators last year, compared with £41,946 in 2003.

Officers in Arun and Eastbourne have been given courses in Polish to help them deal with large migrant communities.

Police in some areas of the county have begun recruiting for Polish speakers to become police community support officers.

Brighton and Hove has a Polish population of 5,000, while Arun has about 4,000.