Anger as thieves steal minibus from Sunderland autistic charity

Police are asking the public to help
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The stolen minibus helps autistic people to live their lives.The stolen minibus helps autistic people to live their lives.
The stolen minibus helps autistic people to live their lives.

Staff at an autism charity are devastated after callous thieves stole a custom-made minibus from one of its Sunderland residential homes.

The eight-seater van was taken on Friday, February 2, from the North East Autism Society (NEAS) home in Grangetown, where two autistic men with complex needs live with carers.

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The minibus is vital for medical appointments and emergencies, trips out and visits to families; both for the two men and for autistic children living in nearby NEAS homes.

The 2021 blue Ford Tourneo Custom, registration PX21 ABF, cost over £41,500.

Because it was custom-made, there is a 10-month wait for a new one and NEAS is now renting a van daily, at considerable expense, as the home depends on it.

The home’s registered manager Robyn Beecroft said: “I’m devastated that somebody would go out of their way to take something so important to vulnerable people.

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“The minibus had a blue badge and contained safety and sensory equipment such as weighted blankets that residents could use on journeys. It was obvious who it was for.

“What kind of a person would do this? It’s disgusting.

“The two residents rely on the van to be able to go out or get to medical appointments. We use it for days trips and holidays.

“And it’s not just us. Other NEAS services use the van too. Nearby children’s homes use it in emergencies when a child is poorly in school, and there’s a young man in supported living nearby who regularly uses it.

“All that has been taken away from us.”

Peter Mountain, operations manager for NEAS residential homes, says minibuses are vital for the children, young people and adults the charity supports.

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He said: “They’re a lifeline. It impacts every aspect of a person’s life if they’re not available."

The North East Autism Society supports over 6,000 autistic people and their families at 53 sites across the region.

A Northumbria Police spokesperson said: “We received a report that a vehicle was stolen from outside an address on Woodstock Avenue, in the Grangetown area of Sunderland, sometime between 9pm on Thursday, February 1 and noon on Friday, February 2.

“Enquiries are ongoing and anyone with information should use the Report page of our website or call 101, quoting crime reference number 13353P/24.”