HEARTLESS thieves stole bags from outside a Banbridge charity shop twice last week - and it seems they could have been doing it for months.
Staff at the War on Want shop in Bridge Street said they had put the rapid drop in donations down to the rising popularity of Cash For Clothes shops in the area.
But now it appears thieves have been staking out the premises and lifting bags of clothes left in the doorway of the shop which donates its proceeds to poverty-stricken parts of Africa.
Two men in a small white van were seen parked outside the shop just before 8am on Tuesday morning. It is thought the men were able to grab the bags through the small opening between the gate and shutter at the front entrance to the shop.
The shop manager said the shutter is left slightly open at night to allow people to make donations 24 hours a day. In recent months staff at the charity shop said donations had fallen substantially - some days not even one bag is left at the entrance.
“There were a few wee incidents of pilfering recently but when we were told by other traders how many bags had been left at the door before being taken we knew this was a more serious issue,” she said.
Local taxi driver David Watton said he saw a van parked nearby shortly before Tuesday’s incident, and described a man leaning over the gate to lift at least five binbags full of clothes.
“It didn’t take them long,” he told the Leader. “They clearly knew what they were doing. I just think it’s so unfair on the shop and the good work they are trying to do.”
French Presse owner Nelly Petkova said she saw a number of bags at the shop last Tuesday morning.
“I was at the cafe at about 7.45am and noticed there were quite a few bags at the shop’s entrance,” Nelly told the Leader. “I think what is happening is a disgrace. I would donate to and buy from that shop and can’t believe there are people who would steal from them.”
The success of shops which pay for second-hand clothes, two of which have opened in Banbridge in recent times, has badly affected donations to the War on Want shop, said another staff member.
“We have already been struggling with donations in recent times,” she said. “But this is just putting us under even more pressure.” The volunteers explained that after around three or four weeks clothes which haven’t been sold are donated to Romania and other parts of eastern Europe.
“So those countries are suffering too because of the actions of these people,” she added. “We often don’t have enough clothes to replace them on the hangers so we can’t send them on to other countries where they are needed.”
Meanwhile police handling of the issue has been criticised by staff at the shop. Police were informed of Tuesday’s incident that morning but a further theft on Friday has left staff dissatisfied with the police investigation.
“I am really annoyed at the police,” said one staff member. “They have been a bit slack with the whole thing. They are maybe thinking ‘Sure it’s only a few rags’ but it’s not and it’s not fair on us.”
It is understood police were informed of the van’s registration after Tuesday’s theft and it was traced back to Newry. However at the time of going to print a spokesperson said, “Enquiries into this incident are ongoing and police continue to appeal for information from anyone who witnessed bags being taken from the area. We will follow all available lines of enquiry.”