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Opportunist thieves near Bishop Aukland who stole a car while the owner picked up a takeaway drove off despite his five-year-old daughter being asleep in the back.
The horrified father dialled 999 and his red Skoda Fabia was found dumped 10 minutes later - and his daughter had not even woken up.
Durham Police arrested four teenagers aged 14 to 17 following the incident just after 10pm on Friday.
The father had briefly parked outside the Royal Chef takeaway to collect food and left his keys in the ignition.
Three youths in dark tops were seen getting into the Skoda and driving off, to the horror of the owner.
DC Mark Forster from Bishop Auckland CID said: ``This was an extremely distressing incident for the victim who feared for the safety of his young child.
``We are appealing for anyone who might have seen the car being stolen or abandoned to come forward.
``Thankfully we quickly located the car and were able to reunite the victim with his child, who was safe and well and hadn't even woken up during the drama.
``The victim has been given words of advice about the wisdom of leaving a child on its own in a car. I'd like to remind people that they should under no circumstances leave cars unattended with keys in the ignition.''
The car was found abandoned nearby on Bylands Close.
Its owner did not want to be identified.
Anyone with information is asked to call Bishop Auckland serious crime unit on 0345 60 60 365, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Four youths aged between 14 and 17 were arrested in connection with the incident and have been bailed pending further inquiries.