On-the-spot police fines are soaring in Sussex and the numbers are set to climb.

More than 900 tickets for up to £80 have been handed out for antisocial behaviour since a new "instant justice" system was introduced in April.

Figures released today show numbers have climbed month-by-month.

Only 28 were issued in April but last month saw a record 205 dished out, mainly to drunks.

A quarter of the tickets have been issued in Brighton and Hove and about 20 per cent in the Eastbourne and Hastings area. Police said most offenders preferred the "quick slap" punishment which is raising thousands of pounds for the Lord Chancellor's office.

The scheme yields efficiency savings for police and the justice system because offenders are no longer clogging up court rooms, meaning officers can spend less time behind desks and more on the beat.

A new category of lawbreaker will be on the receiving end of the instant penalties from this week - the low-level shoplifter.

Sussex Police welcomed the expansion and warned crackdowns on shoplifters will be launched in the weeks up to Christmas to deter what is a multi-million pound crime.

Superintendent Peter Coll said the fixed penalty notices, which operate like motoring fines, had already proved useful in tackling antisocial crimes such as drunken disorder and criminal damage.

He said: "Most of the 900 tickets have been issued to people found drunk and disorderly on Friday or Saturday nights."

Drunks are taken to cells, given time to sober up and fined as they leave. Repeat offenders don't get off so lightly.

Mr Coll said: "They face being cautioned which will leave them with a criminal record. There is a real incentive to pay the fines and behave.

"Those who fail to pay up will see the fine increased 50 per cent and if they are arrested again the unpaid fines will go against them in court."

Drunk and disorderly behaviour, throwing stones at trains and drinking in banned public areas attracts a fine of £50.

But £80 fines are given to 999 hoaxers, people making threats, litter louts, shoplifters and vandals.

The crackdown on shoplifters has been welcomed by Usdaw, the retail trade union, which hopes the penalty will discourage thieves and prevent attacks and threats against shop workers.

A spokesman said: "Research shows every minute of the working day a shopworker is attacked, threatened or verbally abused, with shoplifting being one of the major triggers of incidents.

"As of this week, police have been able to issue on-the-spot fines as part of a Home Office crackdown on low-value thefts."

John Hannett, general secretary of Usdaw, said: "We hope the introduction of fixed penalty notices will mean thieves realise it is not worth stealing from stores and this will lead to a reduction in the number of threats and violent attacks on shopworkers."

Home Office minister Hazel Blears said: "Vandalising property, fouling streets with litter, drunk teenagers causing trouble or stealing for a buzz - this is antisocial, criminal behaviour and a scourge on society.

"People committing these offences will no longer be let off with a verbal warning."

Councils are also issuing fixed penalties for fly-posting and fly-tipping. Brighton and Hove City Council has been issuing £100 fines to revellers who fail to co-operate with council officers asking them to turn down music at night.

Community safety chairwoman Gill Mitchell said: "We receive almost 3,000 complaints about noise each year. The new measures will encourage people to consider their neighbours while entertaining."

Acting divisional environmental health officer Roy Pickard said: "We will continue to negotiate informally with people on the doorstep at night to resolve noise issues. Where people fail to co-operate we will have no option but to issue an abatement or fixed penalty notice of £100."

The council's out-of-hours hotline, operating between 10pm and 3am Fridays and Saturdays, is 01273 293541.