A charity which helps children and young people with autism has launched a campaign to raise £15,000 after callous thieves damaged vehicles belonging to the organisation.
The vehicles, parked in the North East Autism Society’s Emsworth site in Carley Hill, Sunderland, are used by autistic children and young people for off-site curriculum education.
It’s thought two men climbed into the fenced compound by sliding down the branches of a nearby tree, carrying buckets, bottles and kitchen basins, ready to saw off diesel tanks before making off with the fuel.
The pair spent almost five hours between 9.40pm on Tuesday and 2.30am the following day butchering the fuel tanks.
Read more: CCTV shows thieves causing more than £15,000 in damage as they steal fuel from vehicles at Sunderland-based charity for people with autism
It is thought so much fuel was spilled that the men probably only made off with diesel with a street value of less than £100 – despite damage costing five figures.
The charity has had to ground 10 vehicles until the safety of each car and mini bus can be assessed.
The crime has been reported to Northumbria Police and officers have confirmed they are investigating.
The North East Autism Society has now created a fund-raising appeal on the Go Fund Me site to try and generate £15,000.
A post on the site reads: "With the generosity of our community and local businesses we hope to attract funds to recoup our costs, or indeed through people gifting their time and resources in kind - get our vehicles back on the road.
"Currently the damaged vehicles are being assessed and we've had to pay for them to be taken off site.
"The site is now being surveyed ahead of the clean up operation - which is expected to cost thousands.
"This is all before insurance excesses, increases to premiums, fixing the damage on the cars and increased security."
It added: "If you can help with these, or indeed support us in any way we would be eternally grateful.
"We will issue regular updates as and when details emerge of the full extent and detail of the repairs, so the community know in which way they can best help."
Director of education for the North East Autism Society Chris Dempster said: “It takes a certain type of person who would deliberately and calculatingly steal from a charity.
"We don’t just have a spare £15,000 lying around to fix this – and that’s before we think about the hike in our insurance bills that will come from this.
"If there’s a business out there that feels they want to help us recoup the costs of this, any help would be very much appreciated.
“The loss of a mini bus may not seem much – but for autistic people, expecting their normal routine, expecting their familiar environments, and expecting their day to go as planned, it’s devastating.
"As a charity we’ve just invested in a fleet of new vehicles to keep our staff and service users safe. It’s a cruel blow.”
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said: "At about 9.30am, May 1, police received a report of damage to vehicles on a premise on Emsworth Road, Sunderland.
"It was reported that four vehicles had had fuel tanks damaged and fuel stolen.
"Inquiries are ongoing and anyone with any information is asked to contact officers via 101 and quote reference number 228 01/05/19."
Those people who think they may be able to help the charity recoup its costs should email Lindsay.firstname.lastname@example.org
The Go Fund Me page can seen by clicking here