POLICE looking for a pensioner are scaling down their search three weeks after he went missing from home.

Despite one of the biggest and longest-lasting search operations ever mounted in County Durham, police and rescue volunteers have so far failed to discover the whereabouts of Billy Jones.

However, police last night pledged that, although physical searches are being brought to a close, the case remains open and all leads will be pursued until Mr Jones is found.

The 88-year-old former pitman, a married father of two and grandfather of four, left his home in Derwent Road, Ferryhill, at around 4.30pm on October 16.

Insp Bill Bentham said apart from beat officers and specialist dog and police search units from across the force police have called upon the expertise of experienced volunteers from Teesdale and Weardale, North of Tyne, Cleveland and Swaledale search and rescue teams.

The RAF helicopter from Boulmer was involved and the police helicopter was used intensively in the two weeks after Mr Jones vanished.

Insp Bentham said officers visited almost every house in Ferryhill and nearby Bishop Middleham, searches have covered Chilton and Mainsforth and publicity appealing for the public's help has been widespread.

He said: "Sadly everything has drawn a blank.

"We have spoken to Billy's family, who have support from family liaison officers and have been continually updated them throughout this search.

"It is a hard decision to call it off but we feel there is nothing further we can do at this time.

"Everyone would like to see a final closure to this sad investigation and to help in that we are again asking the public to be our eyes and ears and keep a look out. Check outbuildings and report anything suspicious."

Anyone with information is asked to contact Durham police on 0345-60-60365.