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Anger as raiders strip town preschool's minibus for spare parts

From left are nursery workers Samantha Morris, Natalie Sandom, Jess Parsow and deputy manager Hattie Jeffreys
From left are nursery workers Samantha Morris, Natalie Sandom, Jess Parsow and deputy manager Hattie Jeffreys

“What goes through people’s minds?” That was the reaction from a frustrated New Milton nursery owner after its minibus was stripped in a suspected parts theft.

Headlights, the front grill and radiator were among items ripped from the bus belonging to the Little Angels Nursery & Pre-School sometime during last Friday night outside its New Milton Memorial Centre base off Whitefield Road.

Natalie Sandom, the nursery’s manager and owner, told the A&T the raid on the vehicle had effectively grounded them at the centre for weeks until repairs can be sorted out.

“When the caretaker told me on Saturday morning that half the van had been stolen I thought, no you’re kidding – it’s probably just a bit of damage caused by youths,” Mrs Sandom said.

“But when I got down there I was just in shock. I didn’t know whether to cry or just be really angry.”

The offenders also removed mudguards and the aerial, as well as the seals around the windscreen in a possible aborted attempt to take this out.

In addition to this, they had jacked up the vehicle to remove the side steps the youngsters use to board it, bending the bodywork in the process. The bonnet was jammed closed after the offenders apparently drilled its lock.

The nursery first opened in 2017 and currently caters for 48 children from infants to four years old, with a maximum daily intake of 26.

As well as using the facilities at the memorial centre, the youngsters are taken out in the minibus for regular visits to local beaches and New Forest parks.

There are also weekly trips to Bashley Caravan Park for a scheme called Forest School, and to Osborne Lodge Care Home, off Osborne Road, to encourage interaction with the elderly residents.

Mrs Sandom lamented the fact that all of these excursions have had to be cancelled for now due to the theft.

“The children came in and said, ‘What’s happened to our bus?’ How do you tell a child of that age that some horrible people have targeted the bus? So we told them the parts had been blown away by the wind,” she said.

“It’s not right anybody stealing anything from any people, but what goes through people’s minds when they steal something meant for children? It’s beyond me.”

The minibus had been purchased second-hand eight months ago following fundraising that helped raise £3,500, which was combined with Hampshire County Council cash.

Now another campaign has been launched by Lauren Massey, a local mother whose child attends the nursery, with a webpage to raise £650 to help the self-funded nursery pay the excess on the vehicle’s insurance.

Calling the damage caused by the thieves “catastrophic”, Ms Massey wrote on the page: “The minibus is vital for the children as outdoor space at the nursery is limited.

“The children love the minibus and don’t fully understand what has happened so it is our priority to get it back up and running ASAP!”

By Tuesday the page had already collected over £400 in donations towards it target.

“The local community has really been amazing,” Mrs Sandom said, also praising Jonathan Wakefield, owner of Practical Car & Van Rental by the town’s railway station, for offering to assess the minibus on Tuesday.

She was less pleased with the police’s response to the incident, saying officers failed to attend the scene even though she pointed out there were clear fingerprints on the vehicle.

She also highlighted that there had been reports of at least three other vehicles being targeted in parts thefts in recent weeks, including one belonging to Mr Wakefield.

“I am just livid with the police. I contacted them and gave them descriptions of what had happened and said they had left fingerprints on the bus with greasy hands, but they said unless there was blood on the vehicle they wouldn’t come down,” Mrs Sandom said.

“Considering this is not an isolated incident and is happening in a lot of places, why are the police not pulling together to stop people doing things like this?”

Mrs Sandom acknowledged officers were “stretched” due to cuts to police resources, but she complained they had refused to check more than three hours of footage from nearby CCTV to look for suspicious vehicle movements.

In response to the criticism, a Hampshire police spokesperson said: “We prioritise our resources to deal with a range of different incidents as appropriate, this can differ depending on a number of factors, including whether a crime is in progress or viable forensic opportunities.

“Details of incidents are taken and an assessment is made to establish if a deployment is necessary.”

Officers are investigating the incident and anyone with information should contact the force on 101, quoting crime reference number 44190383757, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/f/little-angels-minibus.

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