THE elderly are becoming increasingly afraid to venture on to the streets as their fear of crime grows, Age Concern has warned.

A report by the charity found many pensioners condemned to a life within four walls because they feel vulnerable to attack by muggers and yobs.

The charity surveyed 4,000 pensioners in the country's largest poll on the fear of crime among older people, including hundreds in the North-East who were questioned by staff at regional Age Concern offices.

Almost a third said they stayed in after dark because of crime fears.

In the North-East, 34 per cent said that crime was a very bigproblem in their neighbourhood - the second highest figure in England and Wales.

Most said they wanted to see more police on the beat as well as better street lighting and safer public transport.

Geoffrey Crute, chief officer for Age Concern in Darlington, said: "The fears that they have about crime are generally not being allayed and the situation is obviously worse for those who have actually been victims.

"Our concern is that all this places a considerable restriction on older people's social lives and their ability to participate in community activity."

Sergeant John Zissler, deputy force crime prevention officer with Durham Police, said police accepted that the fear of crime among the elderly remained disproportionately high, even in areas where the actual crime rate was very low.

He said: "We are committed to tackling both crime and the fear of crime and to improving the quality of life for members of our communities.

"Durham Constabulary has pledged to increase the uniformed presence on the streets and force strength is at a record high, providing support and reassurance to local communities."

Sgt Zissler said that Durham Police had begun a campaign to reduce the number of incidents involving bogus callers and were also raising the profile of Neighbourhood Watch schemes.