Fakenham Christmas Tree Festival raises record amount

Thieves who stole charity money from the Fakenham Christmas Tree Festival have failed to prevent the event from achieving record success.

The festival raised �25,181 for charities, smashing the previous record, set in 2009, which was around �21,000, and last year's amount of �18,000.

It is also estimated that a record amount of people, about 25,000, atttended the festival, which finished on Thursday.

And the rector of Fakenham, the Rev Adrian Bell from Fakenham Parish Church, which hosts the festival, this week praised the 'incredible' community spirit and generosity in the town for ensuring this achievement.

He also said that he expects that the person or people responsible for the theft to be caught soon and suggested, as punishment, that they should pay the money back and put 200 hours into the running of next year's Christmas Tree Festival.

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The festival, being run for the 11th year, began last Thursday and finished yesterday.

It has raised more than �250,000 for various charities over the years.

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Each charity taking part decorates a Christmas Tree in the church and visitors donate to charities of their choice. Seventy six charities have taken part this year.

The church was broken into some time between 9.45pm on Saturday and 7am the following day. A small chancel window was smashed, which is expected to cost around �3,000 to repair.

Most donations had been taken out of the church but about �200 was stolen from charity buckets.

The church immediately paid the money to the charities, increased security and ensured from then on that no money was left in the building overnight.

Mr Bell said: 'There has been an enormous amount of support from people and many have said they have been appalled by what has happened.

'But the incredible community spirit and old fashioned British attitude in Fakenham has seen this become one the best Christmas's the church has ever had.'

He added: 'Norfolk Police have been excellent and we had some Fakenham Junior School pupils in who had asked their teachers to come to the church and express their support. I have also spoken about the incident at an assembly at Fakenham High School and the students said they would try to find out who did this. It must have been someone very small to get in through the window.

'People are on the lookout and I expect the person or people who did this to be caught very soon. I would like to see them donate the �200 back and put in some community service towards the running of next year's festival.'

During the break-in money was taken from a bucket raising money for three-year-old Blake Barley, from Toftwood, near Dereham, who has cerebral palsy and is to travel to America for surgery to help him walk unaided.

Mr Bell said: 'Blake is a smashing lad and I can't believe someone would steal from a boy like this. He was at the church with his mum on Sunday and was given a beautiful balloon as a symbol of love from the church to him.'

The offenders left via the Trinity Room door which leads to the church gardens.

Anyone with information should contact PC Suzanne Pulfer on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

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