A 90-YEAR-OLD woman had her purse snatched by two men who asked for directions and used a large map to hide their thieving.

The pensioner was preparing to get into a taxi at the rear of the Morrison’s on North Road, Darlington, when the men approached and spread the map over her shopping trolley which also contained her handbag.

They asked the taxi driver for directions but while the map was spread over the woman’s handbag, one of the men reached inside it and stole her purse.

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A man who witnessed the incident while he was waiting for his partner in the car park gave chase, but the thieves escaped on foot in the direction of Denmark Street.

Police were called to the scene at 5.50pm on Monday evening and were then approached by another woman who said her purse had also been stolen.

Detective Inspector Wendy Tinkler of Darlington CID said it was possible that the two incidents were linked and that the suspects who stole the elderly woman’s bag were believed to be of Eastern European origin.

She urged the public to be vigilant against such thefts and said: “Particularly in shopping scenarios where perhaps people are more concerned with looking at what they are interested in buying, people should still try to be aware of the safety and security of the items inside their handbags and make sure their handbags are secure.

“These are opportunistic thieves who are more likely to look at people who have got their attention focused elsewhere.”

CCTV images of the suspects in the map distraction theft have been released and anyone who has any information that can help the police should contact them on 101.