HUNDREDS of letters and parcels heading for homes in York have been stolen in two separate thefts in the city - raising questions about the security of mail drop-off points.

Royal Mail workers are still sorting through damaged items recovered from the two bags after they were stolen from prearranged drop-off points in the west of York last week.

A Royal Mail spokeswoman said the security of about 100 drop-off points in York - private homes, shops or Post Offices who are paid to look after the bags before they are picked up - was also being double-checked after it emerged that one of those targeted was no longer secure. An alternative to that site was immediately arranged.

People concerned about identity theft have been asked to check their bank statements and credit card bills. There were no postal votes among the stolen mail.

The police confirmed that the bags, which hold approximately 250 items, were stolen from Askham Lane, Acomb, and Hill Street, Holgate, on Tuesday morning last week.

The first was found by a passer-by in nearby Batchelor Hill and the second was discovered in West Bank Park.

It is thought that the thieves were looking for cash, credit cards and any other valuable items.

A Royal Mail worker said that delivery workers' bikes had been targeted recently, but this kind of incident was extremely rare.

She said: "We suspect that someone staked out the drop-off point and watched the van deliver the bags. I don't think this has ever happened before and we have been using the drop-off points for 20 or 30 years.

"It's such a rare occurrence, we are quite shocked.

"It affects such a large number of people and it could have far-reaching implications. We just really have to hope that they haven't stolen anything of real value."

Customers affected include those in Askham Lane, New Lane, Acomb Road and York Road.

Susan Smith, of Askham Lane, had a train ticket go missing in the mail that day.

She had bought a return from York to Manchester Airport costing £25, but it never arrived.

"I'm quite annoyed about it actually," said Susan. "I have got a replacement ticket and should be able to get my money back, but that is not the point.

"The Post Office should have more secure systems than just leaving the mail at drop-off points - I know when I get my new ticket I'll be collecting it myself from the station."

Recovered and damaged items will be sent to recipients as soon as possible. Meanwhile affected customers have been advised to contact any expected correspondents to inform them of the incident so they can make alternative arrangements if necessary.

Councillor Andrew Waller, who lives in Askham Lane, said he would be asking questions about security.

The incident came less than a month after thieving postman Ian McKennan, 19, of Bell Farm Avenue, was convicted of stealing money from birthday cards. He was captured after an undercover sting operation launched by Royal Mail in York.

Updated: 10:11 Wednesday, April 27, 2005