An entire community of allotment holders has been left heartbroken this week after a gang of thieves ransacked sheds and greenhouses and stole over £6,000 worth of tools.
Around 40 allotment plots were broken into by the well-organised thieves, who used the cover of darkness and heavy fog to cover their actions.
Whitby Town Councillor Simon Parkes keeps a smallholding at Prospect Hill Allotments and he said that nearly every shed on the site was broken into, although the gang were very selective in what they took.
“It just doesn’t happen in Whitby,” he said. “It’s shocking. You get the odd shed broken into but to have done it like that, it takes a lot of planning and organisation.”
With such effective planning, Cllr Parkes said he fears a large gang may be travelling around the area. He warned other allotment holders to be more vigilent and make sure their tools are secure.
The theft occurred overnight from Sunday into Monday, with gardeners quickly realising the extent of the attack when they arrived on site that morning.
Heavy electric equipment such as lawn mowers, hedge strimmers and rotavators - used to break up the soil - were all taken from the site, leading police to believe the thieves were well-organised.
“Christ knows what they used to take it all,” said one allotment owner, who asked to remain nameless. “I have lost over a thousand pounds worth of stuff myself.”
Although the man said he will resecure his shed with new locks, he asked whether there was any point when the thieves used heavy-duty bolt cutters to gain entry.
He therefore appealed for the borough council to protect smallholders by increasing security around the site.
In order to remove so many items, the gang must have had the use of a lorry or vans and anyone who may have seen or heard something in the area on Sunday night is urged to contact Whitby police.
“They must have been there for many hours,” added Cllr Parkes. He praised Whitby police for their response, saying forensic teams were quickly on site, searching for evidence.
For many of the gardeners, the allotment is a retirement project where they have spent countless hours as part of a bustling community. For other younger families the allotment may have been a place to learn about sustainable living or save money on food bills.
Cllr Parkes added: “It’s disgusting that they stole from hard-working people who have this machinery to tend the garden. These are despicable people who have done this.”
The reaction among the community of smallholders has varied, explained Cllr Parkes: “It ranges from very fatalistic, as in it was going to happen at some point, right through to people who are in tears.”
For some, the heavy machinery such as rotavators would have been a significant investment, and without them they may be unable to tend the plot.
However, Cllr Parkes said he has already seen signs of a community strength and people have begun to work together to help each other through this difficult period.