Almost £1 million was stripped from Sussex villains in the last year to ensure they cannot live the high life when they get out of jail.

Part of the cash has been used to hire financial investigators to deprive criminals of even more money in the future.

The figure has delighted Sussex Police, who see asset-stripping as an extra punishment for big-time crooks.

Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Cox, Sussex CID commander, said: "These criminals lead luxury lifestyles and the whole point of taking their assets is so they will not be able to enjoy the fruits of their ill-gotten gains when they are released from prison."

The two largest seizures were from a drug dealer and a handler of stolen goods.

Millionaire restaurant owner Anacleto Capetta was ordered to forfeit £300,000 after being jailed for eight years for running a cocaine empire.

Capetta, 39, turned his popular Italian restaurant, Leonardo, in Hove, into a cocaine takeaway.

After his arrest, Capetta was the first person in the country to have his fortune put under police control as part of tough new legislation.

His assets, totalling £1.3 million, were put in the hands of an official receiver after an order was granted under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Capetta, who lived in Sackville Road, Hove, was ordered to pay defence costs of £10,000 and the £140,000 cost of the official receivers' work in managing his assets.

The two sides agreed the figure of £300,000 after negotiations.

In July last year rogue businessman Richard Moroney was ordered to pay back £300,000 he made from handling stolen goods.

Moroney, 52, was described by a judge as a "professional handler".

He was sentenced to four years in prison in September 2003, after he was convicted by a jury of 19 charges of handling stolen goods.

Moroney, who lived at Deepdene Farm in Guildford Road, Broadbridge Heath, was ordered to pay the estimated £301,662 profit from his crimes or face three further years in jail when his sentence ended.

The £900,000 seized in Sussex in the last year went to the Home Office but £153,000 was handed back and enabled Sussex Police to hire six financial investigators to examine the books of other convicted criminals.

Police in England and Wales seized £84 million, according to Home Office Minister Paul Goggins.

He said: "This achievement sends a clear message to criminals - crime does not pay and profiting from crime will not be tolerated.

"We have introduced a number of new initiatives, which will reward police and front-line agencies for their work in seizing assets, and have provided additional funding for the police and other agencies to build capacity."

Under the terms of an incentive scheme, announced last year, individual police forces are to receive one third of the receipts recovered above £40 million during last year (2004-2005).