SECURITY is being reviewed at a North-East university where computer equipment was targeted by thieves.

An estimated £1m worth of recently installed equipment was either stolen or damaged in the night-time raid at Durham University science site last Saturday.

The raiders, one described as black and the other Arabic, were disturbed by security staff and fled with only four of the eight circuit boards removed from powerful computers which store valuable research data on the Stockton Road complex.

Both men escaped in a Mercedes car, originally from London, parked at the nearby New Inn.

The vehicle, bearing false R-registration plates, was found abandoned in the car park at Durham Services at the Bowburn A1(M) interchange.

Police revealed the raid came only five days after an attempted break-in was aborted following the intervention of security staff on the science complex.

Detectives believe the raiders were either "stealing to order", or took a chance knowing the Sun Microsystems equipment is easily sold in select black markets in Asia or North America.

A Durham CID spokesman said last night: "We're working with other forces across the country where similar computer equipment has been taken.

"The sort of thing they took is regarded as the Rolls Royce of the computer world and can be sold on the name itself.

"It often ends up out of the country, possibly in Iran, Pakistan or the USA.

"Investigations are on-going, and we're now awaiting the result of forensic tests."

Durham University spokes-man Keith Seacroft said the theft would prove "disruptive", but confirmed no valuable research data was lost.

"We are still assessing the damage to see if the boards abandoned by the thieves are beyond repair, but it will end up at more than £1m to repair and replace.

"It will temporarily disrupt research operations. We have full back-up data, it's the actual operating system which was taken."

He said security would be looked into across the campuses, but it was intensified at the science site after the disrupted raid, on December 17.