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

A report by the charity has found that many pensioners are condemned to a life inside four walls because they feel vulnerable to attack from muggers and yobs.

The charity quizzed 4,000 pensioners in the country's largest ever survey on the fear of crime amongst older people.

Hundreds of men and women in the North-East were also questioned by staff at regional Age Concern offices. Almost a third said they would stay in after dark because of fears that they may fall victim to crime.

Thirty four per cent of those quizzed in the North-East said that crime was a "very big" problem in their neighbourhood - the second highest figure in England and Wales.

Despite their fears older people still maintained an element of neighbourliness with 60 per cent saying they trusted their immediate neighbours.

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, County Durham, 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 as they are reluctant to talk about the subject.

"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 County 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 have begun a campaign to reduce the number of incidents involving bogus callers and was also raising the profile of Neighbourhood Watch schemes.