Every police force has been put on alert following reported sightings of fugitive, Ivan Leach, 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. Det Supt Paul Withers, senior investigating officer for the force, today told the Evening Post more than 50 detectives are working on the case in Preston alone, with scores of officers in other counties looking for him. The last unconfirmed sighting of him was in Waverley Park, Ribbleton, at 7.40am on Thursday but sightings have also been reported in supermarkets, Ingol, the city centre and Ashton.
The 50 officers are probing possible new sightings and scouring areas of open land where he could be hiding out. Armed officers have been deployed to areas of reported sightings. On Wednesday officers searched 10 homes across the city of associates. Police are also visiting homeless shelters, soup kitchens and are responding to various pieces of intelligence such as people reported sleeping in tents.
Det Supt Withers said: “When you look at his offending behaviour all his life he has targeted massively vulnerable people - the elderly, children - with sex offences and offences of violence.”
Officers at Preston Police Operations Centre are sifting through the sightings and calls and say they have had an encouraging response from the public.
in the last 24 hours unconfirmed sightings have been reported in Orchard Street, Friargate, Moor Lane in the city centre as well as Waverley Park, Fletcher Road in Ribbleton, Village Green Lane, Granton Walk, Barry Ave, Tag Lane, Creswell Avenue and the golf club site - all Ingol - Thistleton Road in Larches and Morrisons at Preston Docks.
He has also reportedly been spotted in Asda and St Vincent’s Road in Fulwood, 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.