Fund for Royal Oak Shrewton Christmas fund theft victims
An emergency fund has been set up by a parish council in Wiltshire to help people affected by the theft of £29,000 from a Christmas savings scheme.
Wiltshire Police said 60 people had lost money following the theft at the Royal Oak in Shrewton on Tuesday.
Landlord Malcolm Levesconte, 59, has been missing since Sunday. Police have linked the two incidents.
Mr Levesconte boarded a Portsmouth to St Malo ferry on Sunday evening.
The fund to help affected families "have a better Christmas" was set up by Shrewton Parish Council following an emergency meeting earlier.
Carole Slater, who chairs the parish council, said: "All we are really trying to do is to support the villagers, particularly the children because they're the ones who are going to be most disadvantaged with this.
"We are trying to raise £29,000 - we have been pledged generous gifts - but anything that can help the villagers, that's what we're interested in."'Increasingly concerned'
Det Sgt Mike Standing, from Salisbury CID, said: "Many of the victims have already contacted us but we have a list of all of the 60 people that have been contributing to the fund.
"In the next few days they will all receive a letter from us outlining what action they need to take.
"We are making numerous inquiries to try to establish what has happed to this £29,000 Christmas thrift fund which has left so many people without the cash they need for presents and food this year."
The money was collected during the year by local people to spend over the festive season.
Lee Acton put £2,400 into the fund and said he was "absolutely gutted" about what had happened.
"The fund was due to pay out on Saturday. [We were going to go] Christmas shopping on Sunday," he added.
"Hopefully friends and family are going to help me out. Hopefully everyone's going to pitch in and make it a good Christmas for everyone yet."
Mr Acton said Mr Levesconte "seemed like a real good bloke".
"He'd help you out if you needed him. I would have never, ever thought he would have done this at all. Shocked, very shocked" he continued.
"I personally think he's spent it. I don't think we're going to get it back."
Richard Rose said he and his wife Geraldine had paid about £700 into the fund and their Christmas has been "ruined" by the theft.
He said the money was going to be spent on presents and socialising over the festive period.
"Now we can't do nothing. We feel very bitter," he said.
BBC reporter Scott Ellis said there were some local people who had put "as much as £5,000 into the account".