POLICE in County Durham are warning drivers that thieves can strike when they are scraping ice off their windscreens.

Officers say some vehicles are being stolen while they are being defrosted with the engine running and the driver is outside trying to clear the glass.

Thieves are also breaking into cars to steal expensive and portable satellite navigation systems.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Malkin, head of the force's organised crime team, said: "These criminals can strike in any area, travelling everywhere to carry out these types of offences.

"It is far easier for them to steal a vehicle with the keys than without, and over the winter months owners should do all they can to protect their own property by following simple precautions," he said.

Drivers who have to park outside are advised to cover their car with a sheet and when they are trying to get rid of ice should not leave their vehicle unlocked or go inside their house.

Det Ch Insp Malkin warns that leaving the engine running while out of the car is an offence.

Insurance companies request details of car crimes from the police to assess claims and that they may not pay out if the victim has contributed to the loss by not taking basic precautions.