POLICE are hunting three men purporting to be fish sellers after one of them stole a widow's handbag.

The 76-year-old had left open the back door of her home in York Crescent, Horden, County Durham, because of the heat.

The thief sneaked in and took the bag, containing £500 cash, which was hanging from a chair in the kitchen.

The incident happened at 12.30pm on Wednesday, while the widow, who has not been named, was in the lounge watching television.

She went into the kitchen after hearing a noise and saw the thief making off.

He and the two others were pursued along Sunderland Road and were last seen going towards the Crossroads Estate.

Detective Constable Bruce Harriman said he believed the three men, who were claiming to be selling fish, may have been local. He urged householders who leave doors and windows open because of the heat to guard against the possibility of sneak-in thefts.

Elderly people in particular should consider fitting security chains to their doors.

Police are appealing for witnesses, and have issued descriptions of the men who are all in their 30s.

The thief is 5ft 11ins, of medium build, and was wearing a baseball cap and a pale blue T-shirt with orange stripes.

The second man is 5ft 6ins, stocky, bald, slightly tanned and had what a witness called a "noticeable eye". He was wearing an England football shirt.

The third man is 5ft 10ins, slim, with swept back black hair and had a "withdrawn look". He was wearing a pale blue denim shirt and light blue jeans.

Anyone with information should call police on 0191-586 2621 or call Crimestoppers on (0800) 555111.