Published: 05:00, 10 December 2021
A potentially life-saving breast-screening van, used to detect cancer, has been withdrawn after vandals smashed windows with catapults, damaged doors and cut the power supply.
There are fears the mobile unit, which has been visiting the Co-op car park in Cranbrook High Street for at least a decade, may not return after three incidents in the same number of months - something patients have described as "heartbreaking".
It comes after extra police patrols were demanded in the summer, following an epidemic of anti-social behaviour which included teenagers shattering windows, streetlights, bus shelters and electrical boxes.
Kent County Councillor for Cranbrook, Seán Holden, called the town a “wild west haven for thugs and bandits," while locals have now branded it "Crimebrook".
Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council chairman, Cllr Kim Fletcher said: "I just can't believe it, talk about shooting yourself in the foot, or your mother in the foot, or your sister in the foot, in terms of early diagnosis of one of the biggest killers of women."
The mobile unit, which is run by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (MTW), was visits the town once every three years for a number of months.
However, it is understood it was withdrawn on Wednesday, due to repeated vandalism incidents since October, with a number of appointments being rescheduled at Tunbridge Wells Hospital.
When Horsmonden resident Dawn May, 59, rang to book an appointment at the unit, she was told it would not be returning to Cranbrook, however this has not been confirmed by the trust, and it's understood the trust hopes it can return.
Ms May, who has used the site for around a decade, said: "So many people from all around that area use that unit.
"The times I have been there and they found something straight away, I was sent straight to the hospital. Luckily enough mine have always been cysts.
"Now all those people that can't drive because of the vandalism have to get to the hospital. It's heartbreaking.
She said there is "so much vandalism" in the town, adding: "people are calling it Crimebrook."
Hawkhurst resident Joyce Saunders, 79, was diagnosed with breast cancer about 12 years ago, after a mammogram at the Cranbrook unit.
Mrs Saunders, who had 15 rounds of radiation therapy and an operation to remove her tumour, is now concerned for those who can't drive or have children, and will find it difficult to get to the hospital.
She said: "I just found it easy, there's a bus from Hawkhurst, I don't drive. Several of us used to go together. I'm thinking to myself, would I have gone that time if it wasn't in Cranbrook?"
Police are investigating the vandalism. Anyone with information should contact the appeal line on 01622 604100, quoting reference 46/222808/21.
MTW has been approached for comment.