FIRE crews are being given police escorts when called to fires in a village because youths are luring them to the area and then stoning them.

Firefighters from High Handenhold station and Durham have been pelted with stones by youths around the Sevenacres area of Great Lumley, near Chester-le-Street.

Youths are alleged to be setting fire to wheelie bins in the area, then waiting for people to report the fire to the emergency services.

Once on the scene, firefighters are then attacked. Last week they were called to the area three times, including twice on Thursday night.

Chester-le-Street District Council has sent in workers to try to get rid of stones and other potential missiles in the area in an attempt to halt the attacks. But firefighters have had to use police protection to prevent crews being injured and to protect fire-engines.

High Handenhold station commander Peter Hewitson said as well as making firefighters' jobs even more dangerous, the attacks mean they may lose vital seconds in arriving at an emergency elsewhere, which could cost lives.

He said: "What we're done is arranged to have a police escort to more or less protect the crews.

"If we come under attack we have to withdraw and leave the fire and that holds the appliance up for tackling other fires."

Firefighters from High Handenhold were stoned in a similar incident in Stanley on Monday last week. Since the introduction of the police escorts over the weekend, Station Commander Peter Hewitson said they had not experienced any more attacks.

He said: "After the initial attacks and the precautions that we put in place, along with the police escort, there does not appear to have been a repeat of the attacks."

John Evans, Chester-le-Street councillor for the Lumley ward, said: "I've not heard of any of these incidents, but if this sort of thing is happening then it has to be condemned utterly and the people in question have to be made to realise the seriousness of that sort of situation and the stupidity of their actions.

"The council is involved in working with the police force in Lumley to deal with matters of anti-social behaviour and that's what this amounts to."