A MANHUNT has been launched after a masked gunman threatened three police community support officers in a remote field in broad daylight.
The terrified officers, two men and a woman, were forced to back off before the gunman and an accomplice, who was also masked, fled in a black car.
The alarming incident took place on Thursday at 3.30pm in the vicinity of the Beamish Park Hotel, on Beamish Burn Road, near Stanley, County Durham.
Last night the two suspects had not been tracked down by police, who warned they were to be considered armed and dangerous, and should not be approached.
The three officers, who discovered the men, were on “a routine patrol”, when they approached the suspects in a field near to the hotel.
Both men pulled masks down over their faces before one of them produced a silver-coloured hand gun and shouted at the officers to ‘get back’.
Both men then got into a black car and sped off.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve Chapman, who is leading investigation, said: “We need to trace these men and would appeal to anyone who thinks they saw the vehicle prior to this incident or afterwards to contact us.
“The men were at a fairly remote location in the vicinity of Beamish Burn Road which joins the A6076 that runs between Kip Hill and Sunniside.
“They made off at speed but we believe they may have headed towards Burnopfield. We are keen to trace the car they were travelling in and believe the first part of its registration is ND59.
“At this stage we can only guess at what these men’s intentions were. Incidents in County Durham and Darlington involving firearms are rare and the people in our communities can be reassured they won’t be tolerated and we will do everything in our power to find these men.”
Surprisingly, people living and working in the area had no idea of the drama in their midst.
Neither staff working in the Stables, part of Beamish Park Hotel, nor nearby pubs The Black Horse and Blue Bell said they had seen any police activity in the area on Thursday afternoon.
John Ord, 49, from nearby Shield Row, said: “It seems rather surprising we heard neither helicopter nor police sirens if officers had been threatened with a gun.
"It makes you wonder what these masked men were doing in a field in such a remote area and while three police community workers were on patrol without any regular officers.”
The incident happened close to the scene of a vicious robbery which shocked even hardened detectives two and a half years ago.
Retired GP Dr William Benson, 93, was brutally beaten by three burglars as he slept in his remote home near Beamish Burn in October 2008.
The culprits have never been caught despite widespread appeals, including one on BBC Crimewatch.
The defenceless doctor, housebound since losing part of a leg in the 1980s, was battered about the head, then left injured on the floor for nine hours before a carer arrived and raised the alarm.
Durham Constabulary can be contacted on 0345 606 0365 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.