A successful American-style marching band is counting the cost after thieves armed with bolt croppers stole batteries from the truck used to transport their competition equipment.
One of the culprits was caught red-handed as he tampered with the lorry at the headquarters of the Black Knights Drum and Bugle Corps on Northfleet Industrial Estate in the early hours.
Members believe that having stolen the two batteries, which operate the tailgate, the thief and an accomplice returned to target the expensive, low-emission exhaust system to sell for scrap.
However, having been disturbed, they fled before they could do more damage.
But it left the band with a bill of £1,000 to repair the truck and get it back on the road in time for the first competition of the marching band season on Sunday.
Senior corps director Mark Jeffrey said: “Funds are low enough as it is and then these lovely individuals vandalise our equipment truck.
“We think they had already been there once that night and taken the batteries, and then came back for the exhaust.
“They were definitely determined to get what they could as they came armed with bolt croppers. If we hadn’t disturbed them the exhaust and wiring would have gone too.”
Mr Jeffrey, 41, and other corps members were at their headquarters at Britannia House in Lower Road overseeing a cadet camp sleepover when, in the early hours of Sunday, June 22, they heard noises in the yard outside.
“A guy was walking across the car park so we went out and asked if we could help him,” explained the father-of-two.
“He was a bit worse for wear and said he was looking for Swanscombe. Because he had been drinking we gave him the benefit of the doubt and gave him directions on how to get out.”
However, when another corp member put rubbish out a short while later he spotted another man under the truck.
“He was trying to get the exhaust off,” said Mr Jeffrey. “He scarpered but then we noticed the battery compartment was on the floor and all the batteries had gone.”
The corps is convinced that noises they initially put down to usual night-time activity on the industrial estate were, in fact, the thieves.
“We are certain they had been there earlier, saw the exhaust and came back for it. They even had the right size spanner,” added Mr Jeffrey.
The bolt croppers were left behind but no fingerprints were found.
The theft came just a week ahead of their first competition in Woking, Surrey, and the absence of the batteries meant none of the equipment on board the truck could be unloaded.
Despite having insurance, the corps had to dip into its own funds to get back on the road in time.
“The truck is of great importance,” said Mr Jeffrey. “Transport costs represent very high expenses for us anyway, and any additional costs such as this can have an impact on additional resources for our members.
“But it was just as important to get to the competition we have worked so hard for.”
To recoup their losses, the Black Knights have now set up a fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/Getbkmoving/
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