FRIENDS of a man police believe has been murdered have paid tribute to a "nice guy".

Convicted rapist Alan Lee Street, 26, of Lime Avenue, Oswaldtwistle, has been missing since 19 December and forensic experts found his DNA in a blood-soaked room in a house in Padiham.

Detectives say he was the victim of a "sustained and prolonged attack" and are convinced he is dead, although no body has been found.

A man has already appeared in court changed with murder and police have launched a nationwide search for two other men, one of whom, Peter Leonard, 51, lives in Arncliffe Avenue, Accrington.

They have also released photographs of Mr Street and details of his last-known movements in a bid to jog people’s memories.

Detective Superintendent Neil Hunter, who is leading the investigation, said: "We know Mr Street travelled to Burnley from Oswaldtwistle on the evening of Friday 19 December.

"I am appealing to anyone who may know how he got there to contact us. Did he use a bus or order a taxi? Even the smallest amount of information could be crucial to this investigation."

Mr Street was sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted of rape in 1999.

Just before he travelled to Burnley on the fateful Friday night he popped in to see his close friends, the Reynolds, in nearby Cherry Crescent, Oswaldtwistle.

Bryn Reynolds senior, who had a drink with Mr Street in his living room, said: "Alan brought me and the wife the first Christmas card he has ever given us in the whole time we have known him.

"He was a really nice guy who never did anything to me or mine. I think people should stop going on about him being a rapist and be more concerned for his whereabouts as nobody deserves to be murdered.

"People had forgotten about the rape and he had put it behind him. I really am worried about him. I think he has been killed because if he had just taken off he would have got in touch to let us know he was OK.

"I don’t think this could have been a revenge attack for the rape. It’s been too long, it must be something more.

"I spoke to his mum the other day and even though they don’t get on she was very concerned for him."

Lifelong friend Paul Reynolds, 26, went to Moor End Primary School with Mr Street and had been close to him since they were five years old.

He said: "I can’t believe what the police are saying may have happened to him. We have been good mates since we were little. I often went round to see him for a chat and a few beers.

"We never talked about what he did 10 years ago. It wasn’t my business. He had definitely changed though and calmed down a lot.

"I want to hope he is OK but I think if he was he would have been in contact."

Mr Street’s girlfriend, Jane Proctor, who lives close by, declined to comment.

Detectives are searching for 51-year-old Peter Leonard and 43-year-old Alan Palmer, who owns the house in Stockbridge Road where the grim discovery of blood was made.

Neither man has been seen since Saturday 20 December and Mr Palmer’s car, a blue Mitsubishi Colt five-door saloon, registration PE58 OJY, is also missing.

Mr Leonard, of Arncliffe Avenue, Accrington, is described as white, around 5’ 8" tall, of medium build with blue eyes and light brown hair cropped very short.

He has a two-inch scar on his nose and the word Love tattooed on the knuckles of his left hand with Heidi on the back of his left hand.

Mr Palmer, a long-distance lorry driver who has strong connections in Padiham and Oswald-twistle, is described as white, 5’ 11" tall, of medium build with receding skinhead-style dark brown hair.

He has brown eyes and several tattoos on his left arm of a snake’s head, bull, eagle snake, and swallow. On his right arm he also has a snake and skull, and two flower designs with the words Mam and Lucky with a swallow.

Detective Superintendent Hunter said: "We need to speak to both of these men in relation to this incident as a matter of urgency.

"I would urge them both, or anyone who knows of their whereabouts or has been contacted by them, to contact police immediately.

"Mr Palmer is a lorry driver and I cannot rule out that he may well have travelled out of the county and could be anywhere in the country."

* Kieran Davison, 20, of Stockbridge Road, Padiham, appeared before Burnley magistrates on Christmas Eve charged with murder. He was remanded in custody to appear at Preston Crown Court on 18 March.

Anyone with information should contact police on 01282 425001 or call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.