Community rallies to help Badersfield theft victim with incurable disease

Pictured at Hughes in North Walsham are, from left: store manager Jamie Crook, Wroxham and Hoveton L

Pictured at Hughes in North Walsham are, from left: store manager Jamie Crook, Wroxham and Hoveton Lions Mike Barker and Annie Cox, Tina Fallon and John Howat. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

North Norfolk has rallied to help a former soldier with an incurable disease after he was targeted by a thief.

John Howat's main contact with the outside world was severed when his brand new iPad was stolen as he returned home to Badersfield having undergone brain surgery at a London hospital.

Mr Howat, 60, who has Parkinson's disease, appealed on Facebook for help to replace the tablet computer - and his prayers were swiftly answered.

The plea was spotted by friend and charity fund-raiser Tina Fallon, who knows Mr Howat and his wife Kay through coffee mornings held at St Edward's Church, Badersfield, formerly RAF Coltishall.

Mrs Fallon, from Scottow, spread the word and within a month more than £1,000 had been raised.

And when she went to discuss buying a replacement iPad at Hughes electrical shop in North Walsham, manager James Crook was so touched by the tale that Hughes decided to give Mr Howat a new iPad for free.

'I think it shows the two sides of human nature - the gentleman was targeted by a thief because of his vulnerability and Tina and the community have rallied to help him. We want to be part of that good community spirit,' said Mr Crook.

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The money raised will be used to buy other items needed by the couple, including a new cooker from Hughes.

Mr Howat, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's aged 48, raised money to help fellow sufferers while he was well enough, including doing a sponsored parachute jump 10 years ago.

He joined the army aged 15, later went into the Royal Signals and then the Army prison service.

After 26 years in the Army he left to join the police, retiring because of his health in 2007.

Mrs Howat said her husband had been brought home by hospital transport from London after surgery in April. His iPad, which they had checked would be packed with his belongings, had not been there when he got home and the hospital could find no trace of it.

'We think some low life stole it,' said Mrs Howat. 'John can't work or drive and he used the iPad all the time for keeping in touch with his Army friends, his sons in Scotland, and sending emails. He sometimes can't sleep at night and used it to go on the internet.'

Mr Howat said he had been 'devastated' by the theft, and had been trying to save for a new one but had found it difficult. He was very grateful at the response to his appeal.

Mrs Fallon said more than £700 had been raised through a Just Giving page she opened on the internet where donors included locals, and members of a Facebook group she runs which has members from all over the world.

Wroxham and Hoveton Lions Club had given £100 and the RAF Coltishall Heritage Trust had donated £200.

Trust spokesman Merv Cousens said Mr Howat was a stalwart member. He added: 'We really hope all the goodwill which has been demonstrated to John and Kay highlights all the best parts of life here in this corner of Norfolk, and gives them both comfort and faith in the future.'