CRUEL thieves left a charity and the disabled people it serves stranded when they jacked up their new bus and stole its tyres.
Leaders at the Haswell and District Mencap Society were distraught when they discovered the Transit sitting on breeze blocks outside the Lisa Dixon Centre yesterday.
The vehicle was to be used to transport a group from its 96-strong register of members to a pantomime last night.
The thieves struck just hours after a St Valentine’s Day event held to raise funds to keep the centre and its services running.
The 17-seater bus, recently donated by the Co-op and branded with the charity’s name, was also decorated with a photograph of Lisa Dixon, who died in 2004 aged 32. She was the inspiration behind the project which led to the centre’s launch in 2007.
Her mum Jean, who is the charity’s manager, and runs it alongside her daughter Hayley Hood, the chief executive, and a team of 112 dedicated volunteers, has been left devastated by the theft.
The six tyres and a spare are worth a total of £2,000. Damage was also caused to the underside of the vehicle as tools were used to free the extra wheel.
Jean, who has been awarded an MBE for her charity work, said: “We had a nice Valentine’s evening and I left at 9.30pm and we know the tyres were still there at midnight.
“It must have taken more than one person to do this.
“I was due to take some of our disabled people to a pantomime in Fishburn and now we’ll have to hire one, which will be an extra cost of about £100.
“It’s just money we don’t want to pay out.
“We’ve got the bus and it’s manned by volunteers and it’s there so we don’t have to face that cost, only the petrol.
“Everybody is just devastated and just can’t believe people would do that.”
The theft from outside the centre, which is opposite Burt Close, in Haswell, happened before 7am yesterday.
Pc Mark Wearmouth, of Easington Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “We are appalled people would stoop to this low level.
“We believe they will have had to have used a trolley jack, which are quite a size, and a van of some description, so if anyone has seen anything, we would like to hear from them.”
The team will also be visiting scrap yards in a bid to track down the thieves and recover the wheels.
Police have asked anyone with information to call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.