MOTORISTS are being warned not to leave their cars unattended while the engine is running, particularly when defrosting windows in icy conditions.

The warning follows five recent cases where cars have been stolen in the Sunderland area after being left unattended while the engine was running - in some cases the car had been on the driveway while the owner had been back in their house.

Inquiries into the thefts are ongoing but police are urging motorists to help them put a stop to this type of crime.

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Sunderland Superintendent Jim Napier said: "Thieves are travelling around the Sunderland area early mornings and are taking advantage of the cold icy weather in order to steal cars.

"They are driving around housing estates and neighbourhoods looking for motorists that have left their cars running and unattended outside on their drives and in the streets. They are then simply taking their pick of the ones they want to steal.”

Officers in the Houghton-le-Spring area carried out an operation on Friday morning where they drove around estates and identified around 40 cars that had been left unattended and with the engine running.