A team of 50 police officers is hunting for fugitive sex offender Ivan Leach – who is now Britain’s Most Wanted Man.
Every police force has been put on alert following reported sightings of the fugitive in different parts of the country. In Preston alone there were more than 30 reported sightings of Leach in just one night.
Leach, a violent predator who preys on the elderly and children, escaped from North Sea Camp open jail in Lincolnshire two weeks ago and is still on the run.
Lancashire’s armed police unit, mounted officers and sniffer dog teams have now been drafted in to respond to the volume of calls from members of public saying Ivan Leach, who is wanted by four police forces, is in Preston.
Since the 47-year-old went missing police in Tayside, Scotland, believe he has sexually assaulted a woman in her own home, and officers in Preston think he made sexual advances to two girls at a bus stop in the city.
He has strong links with South Ribble, and as well as a number of reported sightings in and around the Preston area recently, he is said to have been spotted Seven Acres in Bamber Bridge and Tardy Gate in Lostock Hall.
His continued disappearance appears to be causing panic across Preston with people reporting random sightings in posts on social networking websites.
Internet rumours he has snatched a child have been confirmed as untrue by police.
Det Supt Withers added: “He is either being housed by someone or looked after - and those people will be prosecuted and will go to jail for harbouring a criminal wanted for serious sexual offences.”
Officers are also considering the possibility someone may be harbouring him under duress because they are frightened of him and they have encouraged anyone in this situation to come forward.
More than 500 posters have been put up in venues around the city.
There is a £3,000 Crimestoppers reward for information. Call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.