A police search helicopter was scrambled but failed to find the man who was dressed in combat fatigues and wore a helmet and gas mask over his face.

It was latest in a series of similar scares in the past few months. Each time the man, thought to be carrying a firearm, has been seen prowling the area around Ash Ranges.

The most recent sighting was on December 28 at 6.50pm in Ash Hill Road, near the Ash Centre.

Police in the helicopter and on the ground scoured the area for hours but failed to find the man.

One concerned Ash resident said it happened during the monthly bird show at the Ash Centre.

The resident added: “I think there were about 200 people locked into the centre for a couple of hours and I saw the helicopter over there searching. It was up there for easily an hour and a half.”

A spokeswoman for Surrey police admitted they had received reports from worried residents that they had seen a man carrying a firearm. But she added officers had not been able to confirm the sightings.

She said: “We are obviously concerned because he is causing people distress because of the way he is behaving.

“This is the third time at least that he has been seen in the Ash Ranges area.

“He may have been there more without it having been reported to us.”

She added: “We are treating this seriously and a lot of resources have been committed to it but we need to catch him doing it in order to arrest him.

“If anyone sees this man they should not approach him but call the police straight away.”

Ash Centre supervisor Stuart Frampton also saw the man on a Wednesday evening last October.

He called the police after youngsters skateboarding outside reported a man standing by the edge of the car park watching them.

The centre’s CCTV footage also showed the man but, as the light was fading, the image was not very clear and he had gone by the time police arrived.

Mr Frampton told the News: “It’s a bit disturbing because sometimes I am in the building on my own and there are children about all the time.

“It’s not normal behaviour, standing there in combat gear with a gun or toy gun or whatever.”

He added: “He was there for about 20 minutes. If he did have a gun, he could have done anything.”

Ash councillor John Dickinson said: “Obviously everyone is extremely concerned.

“Anybody, whoever it is, who goes into that area should be extremely vigilant.

“While it has not been confirmed that there is a weapon involved, it should certainly not be taken for granted that there isn’t.”

Anyone who sees this man should contact Sergeant Steve Truscott or Sergeant Jim Broadfoot on 01483 531111.