POLICE have urged shoppers to be vigilant after a spate of attempted distraction thefts.

Officers have released CCTV images of a couple they are keen to question after an elderly man was targeted.

The 78-year-old was approached by a man and a woman in Marks and Spencer, in High Northgate, on Tuesday (February 18) morning.

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Detective Constable Neil Stannard, who is investigating the incident, said: “It would appear that they have followed him from the HSBC bank and into the store towards the public toilets next to the café.

“They have waited for him to leave the disabled cubicle and when he has done, so the male seen in the pictures has blown in his ear to distract him and tried to engage him in conversation.

“At this point, the female accomplice has managed to unzip the victim’s satchel, which he was holding in his hand, while he was being distracted by the male.

“The female has then managed to remove the victim’s wallet from his bag, however, the victim has seen the female trying to steal his property and has challenged her.

“This caused her to drop the wallet and the male and female made off from the communal area of the toilet and out of the store.”

Det Con Stannard said the elderly man was left shaken by the incident, although nothing was stolen.

He added: “The victim describes the couple as being of a foreign appearance with olive skin, possibly Eastern European. The male spoke with a foreign accent.

“Thankfully nothing was stolen in this case and the victim was not injured, although he was shaken by the incident.”

Both were dressing in dark clothing and the man wore a dark flat cap.

The woman, who was considerably shorter than her accomplice, wore a white scarf.

A similar incident happened later that day in Cockerton, when a woman was approached by two people matching the description of the pair in the Marks and Spencer incident.

The would-be victim shouted for help and again the pair fled empty-handed.

Det Con Stannard urged shoppers to keep their wits about them, keep valuables zipped out of sight, not to carry large quantities of cash and not to keep a note of PIN numbers in wallets and purses.

Anyone who recognises the couple in the CCTV images is asked to call Det Con Stannard, of Darlington’s serious crime team, on 01325-742763, quoting crime reference number DJ1401026.