POLICE have issued a warning after a series of break-ins that were helped by poor home security.

There have been nine walk-in burglaries on the outskirts of Middlesbrough since the end of March, by crooks finding unlocked homes.

Cleveland Police say they are increasingly concerned about the trend in the Eston and Normanby areas.

The burglaries happened during between midnight and 5am.

Intruders entered through closed but unlocked doors and visited the kitchens to steal handbags, purses, cash and bank cards.

There is no particular target house type, with incidents at terraced and semi-detached houses occupied by victims of all ages.

PC Steven Drabik, Langbaurgh's crime prevention officer, said: "It seems these criminals are wandering around at night, trying door handles until they find one insecure. Our message to people is to wake up to what is going on and, last thing at night, lock their house doors and shut their windows.

"The number of house burglaries in this area has been in decline for some time, so it is particularly disappointing to see this new trend developing.

"This type of crime is completely avoidable.''

He urged people not to keep large amounts of cash in the house and to hide valuables.

PC Drabik urged people to report anything suspicious and to ring 999 if necessary.

The thieves always head for the kitchen because it is a woman's favourite place to leave her handbag or purse, before retiring to bed.

Recent incidents have been different from those in which burglars break into unoccupied houses and steal items from the ground floor before making their way to the bedrooms to steal jewellery.

In the recent cases, the thieves walked in fully aware that the house was occupied but confined themselves to the ground floor, stealing money and bank cards.

Anyone in the Redcar and Cleveland area with home security concerns can call PC Drabik on (01642) 302071. In other areas of Cleveland, they are asked ring (01642) 326326 and ask to speak to their local crime prevention officer.