THIEVES have stolen a minibus from a charity that helps people with learning difficulties.

A Ford Transit minibus was stolen from Haswell and District Mencap, which is based at The Lisa Dixon Centre, on Burt Close, in Haswell, near Peterlee.

It was taken shortly after 12am on Saturday and a criminal investigation is now underway.

The charity provides services, activities and support to people with learning disabilities, their families, and their carers.

Staff bought the minibus following a fundraising campaign in 2012.

It has the company logo on the side, and a photograph in memory of Lisa Dixon.

A Just Giving page, set up by Craig Overton, so people can donate money online to replace the minibus, has so far raised over £1,150.

Mr Overton said: “Haswell and District Mencap Society do amazing work in our community. They are a charity aimed at providing services, activities and support to people with a learning disability, their carers and the wider community.

They recently had their minibus stolen which is a lifeline for the people they support and, due to Covid-19, they have lost all their fundraising income and their charity shop has been closed.

“I’m hoping that together we can raise £5,000 to give them a helping hand. So please get behind a local charity, show them we appreciate what they do and let’s get Mencap Mobile again.”

A spokesman for Haswell and District Mencap Society said: “We are overwhelmed, and very emotional, at your kindness and generosity and can't quite believe that over £ 1,000 has been raised in the first 24 hours.

“Your support really does mean the world to us at this awful time.”

Video footage caught on CCTV shows four figures hanging around the centre before the van is broken into a driven away.

Police are now investigating and are urging anyone with information to contact them.

A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said: “Can you help our officers solve this despicable crime?”

Anyone who witnessed the incident, or has any information on who stole the vehicle, is asked to contact PC Cornfield on 101, quoting incident number 228 of August 4.

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