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Knife raid terror for Darren Fletcher's family

Robbers carried out a "terrifying" raid on the home of Manchester United star Darren Fletcher, police said today.

Hayley Grice, the footballer's fiancee, was grabbed by the hair and had a knife held to her throat while being forced to hand over her engagement ring.

Her mother, staying at the house while Fletcher was abroad with United, was also grabbed by one of the robbers and threatened at knifepoint to hand over more jewellery and watches.

The couple's young twin sons were also at home at the £1.5m mansion in Bowdon, Greater Manchester, when the gang of three hooded robbers kicked open the front door and burst into the living room shortly before 9pm last night.

Only hours earlier, the £50,000-a-week Old Trafford midfielder flew out to Italy with team-mates for his club's crucial Champions League game against Inter Milan.

Fletcher, 25, who is also a Scotland international, is the latest in a long line of wealthy Premier League stars, mainly Liverpool players, who have been burgled by crime gangs while away from home for matches.

The robbers who targeted his house fled in a car but the victims did not see it being driven off.

Sergeant Phil Seeley, of Greater Manchester Police, appealed for information and said: "This was a terrifying attack for the victims who were at home. Luckily the children didn't see anything and nobody was hurt.

"We are appealing to anyone with information around this crime. Maybe you saw a car driving away from this area at speed, or maybe somebody you know was bragging about or planning this."

Police said they were keeping an open mind as to the identity of the robbers or links to other attacks. They would not be drawn on whether the raiders had Liverpudlian accents.

Police descriptions of the robbers said one offender was white, in his early 20s, 5ft 9in and of slim build.

He was wearing dark clothing, a hooded top and dark gloves.

The second is described as in his early 20s, 6ft and of slim build. He was wearing dark clothing, a hooded top and dark gloves. He covered his face with a scarf.

The third is described as in his early 20s, 5ft 10in and of slim build. He was wearing dark clothing, a hooded top and dark gloves. The top he was wearing had a white mark on it. He also covered his face with a scarf.

Bowdon, on the border between Greater Manchester and Cheshire, is one of the area's most affluent villages and home to a number of multi-millionaire footballers.

Crime gangs have now targeted numerous high-profile footballers - safe in the knowledge that the player will not be at home when they carry out the raid.

Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard was also the victim of a raid, at his home on Merseyside.

His wife, model Alex Curran, was confronted by burglars while he was playing a Champions League match in December 2007.

The couple's daughters were upstairs in bed during the attack in Formby.

But Gerrard is not the only player at the Anfield club to have been targeted - others include Dirk Kuyt, Pepe Reina, Jerzy Dudek, Daniel Agger, Peter Crouch and Florent Sinama-Pongolle.

Everton player Andy van der Meyde's property was also broken into.

Merseyside Police said the common link between the raids was they targeted wealthy individuals - who were away playing football at the time.

Expensive jewellery, Rolex watches, sports cars, soccer memorabilia and medals have all been taken during the break-ins.

It is believed Fletcher is the first Manchester United player to fall victim to the crime.

Edinburgh-born Fletcher has made 200 appearances for United since joining them as a trainee, making his debut in March 2003.

He is also one of Scotland's leading players, and in 2004 was made the national side's captain, aged just 20.

He signed a four-year contract extension with the Old Trafford club last October.

The break-in at his home comes as Fletcher and United prepare to take on Jose Mourinho's Inter at the San Siro tonight in a crucial Champions League match.