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Faces of top 10 'most wanted' published

The faces of Britain's 10 most wanted alleged doorstep criminals were published today in a bid to bring them to justice.

Police want to trace nine men and a woman suspected of preying on elderly and vulnerable people in their homes.

Investigators said the number of so-called distraction burglaries, in which criminals pretend to be workmen or officials, often soars in February and March.

They brought together a list of suspects who include offenders claiming to be water board officials, plumbers and even a police officer.

Among those on the list are Patrick Gilheaney who has allegedly stolen from pensioners in Suffolk, Norfolk, Staffordshire, Bedfordshire and Leicestershire.

Another wanted man, John Nolan, 22, is being hunted over the violent robbery of a 72-year-old woman who was attacked at her Belfast home.

Derbyshire Police want to trace an unidentified man who attempted to rob an elderly man after pretending to be a police officer, checking for burglaries.

The most wanted list was brought together by the Operation Liberal specialist police unit that monitors distraction burglaries and distributed by charity Crimestoppers.

It echoes other successful publicity drives targeting violent criminals, suspects thought to have fled to Spain and missing paedophiles.

Derbyshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Peter Goodman said the cold weather led to reports of burglars using snow and ice as excuses to try to prey on residents.

He said: "Distraction burglars trick their way into the homes of the elderly and vulnerable, generally by pretending to be an official of some kind or asking for assistance.

"Operation Liberal works together with all UK police forces to target and bring to justice those individuals who prey on the vulnerable in society.

"Our message is - if you're not sure who is calling, then don't open the door, check their identity first.

"There have been many recent examples of vigilant members of the public reporting suspicious behaviour to the police which has led to a number of distraction burglars being arrested. We want this to continue.

"Should anyone have information about someone they believe is carrying out these terrible crimes please call police or if you prefer, phone Crimestoppers, who will treat your call anonymously."

Dame Vera Lynn, of Sussex Crimestoppers branch, said: "As someone who has been a victim of burglary several times, I can't reinforce enough how frightening it is.

"Worse than having your possessions taken, is having your confidence stolen as well. A home is where everyone should feel safe and relaxed, not anxious and worried at what might happen.

"We must not let these despicable criminals get away with traumatising people and stealing treasured possessions."

Lord Ashcroft, of Crimestoppers, said distraction burglars are "hideous individuals" who often take life-long treasured possessions and money from elderly people.

He said: "Some victims suffer a decline in health and even die as a result of the trauma caused by these criminals."

* To view the 10 most wanted individuals visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org/wanted. To pass information to police call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.