POLICE are today hunting a masked gang who are targeting homes across Hampshire after a third terrifying raid in just nine days.

In the latest attack three balaclava-clad raiders burst into a house on the outskirts of Southampton occupied by a couple in their 50s and their 83-year-old mother.

They tied up the husband, threatened the family with an iron bar and demanded cash as the family sat down to eat supper.

It is the third similar attack in the county in just over a week and detectives are today investigating whether they are linked.

The latest robbery happened on Saturday night when the gang forced their way through a side door of the house in Kanes Hill, between Bitterne and Hedge End, as the family were in the kitchen.

Detective Inspector Tom Tobin said: "A couple, who are in their fifties, and their elderly mother, who is 83, were in the kitchen relaxing for the evening when suddenly three men wearing balaclavas forced their way in the side door.

"The two younger ones were grabbed by the neck and pulled to the floor and the gentleman was tied up by his dressing gown.

"They were threatened with violence with an iron bar by the men, who wanted money.

"Quite rightly they put more value in their security than money and they said: 'here, have it'."

DI Tobin said the thieves helped themselves to a "significant" amount of cash and jewellery but left the occupants unharmed.

"No one was injured apart from being deeply traumatised which we shouldn't underestimate because it was a terrifying ordeal," he said.

He said evidence was being gathered from the crime scene and from a site where the wife's handbag was found by a cyclist on Charles Watts Way, about 100 metres from the M27.

Detectives were today (MON) also carrying out house to house inquiries along Kanes Hill, a leafy lane running parallel with the M27 between Thornhill estate and Hedge End.

On January 4, two men wearing balaclavas broke into 58-year-old Lesley Foreman's New Forest cottage, bound and gagged her, and stole a large amount of cash and jewellery.

Two days later at a bungalow in West Wellow, near Romsey, three men wearing balaclavas threatened to harm a 77-year-old woman and her middle-aged son unless money was produced.

The trio escaped with a large quantity of cash.

DI Tobin said he was not connecting the crimes at the moment but also said there were "strong similarities".

"I'll keep an open mind on a possible link with other crimes in the area and will make contact with the senior officers to compare notes," he said.

The latest robbery at Kanes Hill happened around 7.15pm on Saturday.

Anyone with information about it, or either of the other incidents, is urged to call Hampshire police on 0845 045 4545.

Alternatively ring the free and anonymous Crimestoppers line on 0800 555111.