Published: 05:00, 12 May 2022
| Updated: 16:21, 12 May 2022
A homeless man had his van stolen and torched while in hospital following a freak boot fair accident.
Malcolm Staines, who collects for the Sheppey homeless outside Specsavers in Sheerness High Street, was rushed to hospital after a cut to his hand became infected.
But while having his finger amputated in Medway Maritime Hospital, Gillingham, callous thieves took his van from the car park. Police later found it a burnt out wreck.
Close friend Gerry Cunningham, 63, from Minster Road, Minster, said: "It's disgusting. Malcolm does so much for the community and then these scumbags do this. I put something on Facebook and everyone is fuming.
"I am sure his car insurance will pay out eventually but in the meantime I was hoping we could raise a couple of grand so he could get another van to get him back on the road quickly."
Malcolm, from Prince Charles Avenue, Minster, also raises money with a stall every Sunday at the Leysdown boot fair where the public pays to smash old crockery.
Gerry said: "I understand that the other stallholders are being asked to have a whip round but it would be good to set up a gofundme page."
A stunned Malcolm, 68, said from his hospital bed: "The first thing I knew about the theft was when police rang me and asked if I knew where my van was. I said it was in the hospital car park but they said it was in Gillingham and had been burnt out."
He said yobs, wearing hoodies and masks, were caught on CCTV at 2.28am driving the van out of the car park over a broken security fence and set it on fire about 5am.
Malcolm added indignantly: "They didn't even need a ticket to open up the barrier."
He bought the red 2005 Citroen Berlingo van, valued at £1,800, six months ago at Blue Town. He said: "It was perfect for carrying stuff for my charity and my walking frame. It was a good little van but there is nothing left of it now. It is just a shell.
"It had a couple bags of clothing, a sat nav and the sign for my charity inside. But the most annoying thing I have lost is my disabled parking badge. It's been one thing after another."
The former Sheerness Town councillor cut his finger on his boot fair stall and it turned septic.
He said: "I put a plaster on it but a few days later I was in Specsavers having an eye test and collapsed with sepsis. The ambulance crew whipped me straight to hospital. The infection had all gone up my arm."
After treatment, he was released and told to return for an operation to remove the finger, which is why he had driven himself to the hospital.
Malcolm, who has been homeless himself, hit the headlines in 2018 when Specsavers moved into a derelict shop and told him he could no longer collect clothing outside their window. But after a public campaign, they relented.
He has also appeared in the Sheppey summer carnival with his previous van decorated with Sooty and Sweep puppets asking for unwanted goods to recycle.
'No arrests have yet been made'
Gerry added: "Anything we can do for Malcolm would be great. He spends so much time helping others but now he needs our help."
A spokeswoman for Kent Police said: "We are investigating a report of a vehicle being set alight in Regency Close, Gillingham, in the early hours of April 18. The vehicle is reported to have been stolen before being set alight.
"Several nearby parked cars were also reported to have been damaged by the vehicle fire. No arrests have yet been made. Enquiries are ongoing."