Two thieves who fled over fields to escape police, leaving behind a lorry load of stolen goods, were being hunted yesterday.

The pair were driving an old Ford tipper truck when police in a patrol car spotted them on a road near Woodland, at 1.20am.

The officers decided to follow the vehicle and question the people in it. But it suddenly served off the road on to a track and screeched to a stop. The two jumped out and ran away.

In the black and white E registered truck police found a large quantity of Teesdale stone roofing slates and two five-barred metal gates.

Yesterday, Sergeant David Storey, of Barnard Castle police, said: "We have had a lot of reports of roofing slates being stolen from farm buildings, but this is the first time we have caught a getaway vehicle."

The slates and gates were being checked when a farmer reported that they had been stolen from a building on his land near Woodland.

Police are trying to trace the last known owners of the truck.

Sgt Storey said: "This vehicle may well have been driven around different parts of Teesdale lately.

"We would like to hear from anyone who recognises the description and can tell us about the people who were in it."

There is a big demand for the natural stone roofing slates, which command high prices.

Many have been stolen in the past from isolated barns and outbuildings in the dale.

The incident happened on Saturday, but details were released only yesterday.