THREE armed robbers stormed a cottage in an isolated Northumberland hamlet and threatened a 49-year-old woman before escaping with a haul of two shotguns, ammunition and cash.
The married woman, who was alone in the cottage late on Wednesday night, was threatened by the men but not harmed.
Wielding baseball bats and wearing balaclavas, the men ransacked the property at isolated Dalton, near Hexham.
They forced a shotgun cabinet from the wall, took the guns and ammunition plus cash, and escaped in the couple’s car, which was later recovered.
Yesterday, the tiny community half a mile from Whitley Chapel, south of Hexham, was stunned by the crime.
The husband of the woman declined to talk about the robbery, saying only: “I’m piecing things back together.” Detectives were carrying out door-to-door enquiries at the half-dozen cottages in Dalton.
One woman there said: “It happened at about 10 o’clock on Wednesday night and none of us heard or saw anything. The police have been round all the doors but I don’t think people have been able to tell them very much.
“This is such a quiet, out-of-the-way place that you never expect anything like this ... we still can’t believe it’s happened.
“Thankfully the lady wasn’t hurt, but she must have been terribly shocked.”
The incident will revive memories of a robbery in June in which three men broke into another isolated rural property – this time at Capheaton, north of Ponteland – threatening the occupants and forcing them to drive to their jewellery shop at Kirkharle, which they robbed.
At the time, community leaders in Northumberland expressed concerns that isolated rural properties were easy targets for travelling criminals.
Police are not currently linking the two incidents.
Acting Inspector Joanne Park-Simmons of Hexham police said: “There is a community focus in our investigations, and that will continue. We are reassuring the people in the vicinity. Additional officers will be in the area to answer any concerns residents may have. We are carrying out extensive enquiries to trace those responsible and are asking members of the public to help us.
“We are also asking anyone who has information about the whereabouts of the firearms to contact the police immediately.”
Police said the firearms stolen from the tenanted cottage were legally held by the owner.
Property landlady Judy Stobbs, who lives in Dalton, said the couple had lived in the cottage for many years but added: “I can’t say any more because like everyone else, I don’t know anything of what happened.”
Last night county councillor Colin Horncastle claimed reductions in police numbers were leaving rural areas vulnerable to crime.
He said: “Over the space of many years the police numbers have been cut and people on the wrong side of the law know that.
“It leaves isolated places like Dalton, in rural areas, more vulnerable and when it happens, it impacts more in that kind of small community than in a city or a town because everybody knows everybody.
“It is a large concern, but at the same time I must stress that this area is still a very, very safe part of the world and this is only an isolated incident. The police are doing the very best they can.”