Callous thieves have stolen a £15,000 minibus which helped disabled people on Wearside get into the world of work.
The Ford Transit vehicle was swiped from the Sunderland home of Keith O’Brien, managing director of Woodcraft for Landscapes.
As part of the shameless theft, a brand new £8,000 Dasia car, belonging to Mr O’Brien’s fiancee Angela Walker, was also taken, as well as items belonging to the couple.
Those responsible had broken into Mr O’Brien’s East Herrington home and nabbed the keys to the vehicles before driving away.
Police have confirmed they are investigating the despicable crime.
“It’s really low by whoever’s done this, whether they knew the minibus was used by a charity or not,” said Mr O’Brien, 60, who set up Woodcraft for Landscapes in 2004.
“It’s really low by whoever’s done this.”Keith O’Brien
“We were asleep upstairs when the morning after Angela looked out and couldn’t see her car. When she asked if I’d moved it and I said I hadn’t, that’s when we knew we’d been burgled.
“It looks like they got in and took our keys before driving off.”
As well as the vehicles, laptops, watches, wallets (including one which had a picture of Ms Walker’s late mother inside), and a chainsaw used by the charity’s clients was also taken.
“Everything taken has come to about £30,000 altogether,” said Mr O’Brien.
“But it’s the sentimental value of much of it that we can’t replace. I had a watch bought for me by my two daughters which was very expensive.
“It was quite special to me.”
Ms Walker, 49, said: “That picture of my mother I can never get back now.”
Woodcraft for Landscapes is a Community Interest Company (CIC) which was created to help people with learning and physical difficulties.
It aims to involve clients in a range of horticultural projects, designed to enhance and develop garden and community landscapes and provide training.
The organisation also encourages clients to take up woodwork projects which include manufacturing garden furniture such as tables, chairs, benches and bird boxes, as well as fencing and trellising.
Woodcraft is currently looking to develop the jobs it does in Sunderland, east Durham and the surrounding areas, in the form of garden development and maintenance.
“It’s upset a lot of the adults who work with the charity,” added Mr O’Brien.
“We’re a not-for-profit company so no-one’s making any money.
“We’d only had the minibus since May and it was a really nice one.
“Now we’re having to use rented minibuses at the minute to get to the places we do work at, but it’s not ideal.”
The 15-seater minibus is white, and has no branding on it.
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said: “Between 10.30pm Wednesday, August 10, and 5.30am on Thursday, August 11, burglars got into a house in St Chad’s Crescent, Sunderland.
“They stole various items from the property, including the keys to two vehicles that were parked outside.
“They then stole the two vehicles.
“If anyone has any information please contact police on 101 quoting 132 110816.”
Mr O’Brien is also appealing for anyone who can help with donations to the charity or may know of those wanting to sell a good quality minibus to contact him by calling 07813005976 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org