IT'S a little gnome fact that those little men at the bottom of many a garden were once thought to bring good luck and would often keep watch over livestock and crops.

So to protect the residents of Darlington and make short work of determined criminals, Durham Police has recruited a section of pint-sized crime fighters - with a little help from the Gnome Office.

The ten characters, complete with official police uniform and helmet, are swapping their usual 'gnome sweet gnomes' for the streets of Darlington to promote safety messages and offer crime prevention advice.

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Every week, a new recruit will be deployed to a different business around the town to help police fish for clues and offer advice on how to keep property, including bikes and garden equipment, safe during the light nights.

Eagle-eyed residents will also be encouraged to spot the gnomes, with those who manage to find all ten entered into a prize draw.

Chief Constable Mike Barton said he thought the gnomes were a brilliant idea, and hoped people would act on their advice.

Although the introduction of the gnomes is light-hearted and a bit of a gimmick it also has a real purpose for us, he said.

These gnomes are going to be placed across Darlington with serious messages and it would be great for people to go out and find them.

This is all part of our wider objective to make County Durham and Darlington one of the safest places in the country to live and work.

He said as the majority of thefts from cars were from unlocked vehicles, the gnomes would also be encouraging people to secure their property and remove all valuables from view.

Who knows, maybe if your car is insecure, one of our garden gnomes will be on your driver's seat, he said.

The initiative is run in conjunction with the town's business improvement district and the gnomes created by Darlington business, Dekra Crete, free of charge.

They were painstakingly painted by the force's partnership liaison officer, Annette Metcalfe, who is based in the Safer Neighbourhoods Unit in Gladstone Street, Darlington,

It is something a bit different and, hopefully, it will get people thinking, she said.

The new officers will be introduced to residents every week on the Darlington Neighbourhood Police Team Facebook page.

For more information on gnome-spotting call the Safer Neighbourhood Team on 01325-346832.

Little gnome facts:

  • Garden gnomes were first introduced in to the UK in 1847 by Sir Charles Isham, who brought 21 terracotta figures back from Germany and placed them in the gardens of his home, Lamport Hall, Northamptonshire.
  • Lampy, the only survivor of the group, is the oldest garden gnome in England and is estimated to be worth £2m.
  • Until 2013, gnomes were banned from the Chelsea Flower Show, but exhibitors would often try and smuggle them in by hiding them in foliage.
  • The Garden Gnome Liberation Front was set up to kidnap gnomes and free them into the wild, as they believed they were being oppressed in gardens around the world. In 1997 their ringleader was given a suspended sentence and fined for the theft of 150 gnomes.
  • Ann Atkin currently holds the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of gnomes and pixies - 2,042 of them live in her four-acre Gnome Reserve in West Putford, Devon.