SIX people were arrested and seven properties were searched as part of a major inquiry into the illegal use of digital TV set-top boxes.

The five men and one woman were detained in Blackburn yesterday by more than 40 officers as part of a joint investigationb by Lancashire Constabulary and Virgin Media.

The probe was launched into the illegal modification of set-top boxes to receive digital TV subscription channels without payment.

A house in Livingstone Road and two in Assheton Road as well as an industrial unit in Hamilton Street, were raided in the town.

The investigation then transfered to Preston in the late afternoon where two more properties and an industrial unit were searched.

Officials from Virgin Media as well as specialist asset recoverers accompanied the police.

Computers and more than 200 digi boxes were seized and will be examined.

Detectives began questioning the suspects on suspicion of committing offences under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Sergeant Colin Dassow said: "Members of the public should be reminded that using set-top boxes that have been illegally modified to receive digital TV subscription channels are committing a criminal offence.

"Anyone receiving these channels and making no payment to the respective media company is at risk of being prosecuted."

Malcolm Davies, Virgin Media's head of fraud and security, said: "We take this matter extremely seriously and will continue to work closely with all the police forces throughout the UK to prosecute individuals connected with this type of TV fraud."

A spokesperson for Virgin Media said: "We have been investigating this behaviour for just under a year through our in-house security team, who include a lot of ex-police officers.

"They monitor newspaper columns, internet auctions and computer fairs for suspicious activity."

A resident living opposite the raided house on Livingstone Road, said: "I got a shock when I came to the front expecting a delivery and saw three Black Maria's on my doorstep.

"I didn't hear them arrive. I would say it was a hive of activity but happened very quietly.

"There were police officers all over and police cars dotted along the street.

"There were always deliveries of boxes going into that house."

A resident on Assheton Road, who did not want to be named, said: "There were four or five big police vans that turned up and raided two houses across the way.

"I saw them taking lots of things out in boxes. They were there quite a while."

An eyewitness from Mill Hill Private Hire, which operates from the industrial unit next door to the one raided in Blackburn, said: "There were lots of police and they took a lot of stuff out with them.

"Four police vans, three other vans and two police cars arrived at about 9.30am and left at 3.30pm. It definately looked to be on a big scale.

"The police took one man away who was at the unit and loads of things in evidence bags."