HOMEOWNERS have been warned to be on their guard after a string of burglaries in an area of north Durham.

During the past two weeks, private homes in Brackenbeds Close in Pelton, and others in Ouston, near Chester-le-Street have been singled out by thieves who lie in wait at night observing the properties.

Investigators, who have stepped up patrols by plain-clothed officers in the area, believe the thieves are keeping watch on homes in the area and waiting for homeowners to drop their guard before dashing in to snatch handbags and other valuables.

Acting Sergeant Mick Kirtley said he believed the thief or thieves were hiding in fields at the back of the houses, watching householders move between rooms in the house.

He said: "Before the curtains or blinds are closed in the early evenings the homes are like goldfish bowls. In all these cases, the back doors are open and people's moves can be monitored. The thief is running into the kitchens and utility rooms while owners are elsewhere snatching handbags and other property that are one clear view from the outside."

They added that the public of the area had been informed through Neighbourhood Watch groups and other channels.