YOUTH workers and youngsters were left disgusted after metal thieves stole part of the exhaust from their minibus.
The West View Project, in Hartlepool, had to shell out £320 to replace the catalytic converter that was cut from the vehicle.
Bosses at the youth charity took the vehicle to a mechanic who said the catalytic converter contains platinum and it is believed it could have been stolen it for the expensive metal inside.
They said they have been left devastated by the theft and they will have to replace the item using cash that was put away for activities for youngsters in the coming months.
The heartless thieves struck on Tuesday while the minibus was parked just off the A689 opposite the entrance to Wynyard village.
The teenagers had spent the day enjoying a walk and adventure day in the nearby woodland.
But their excitement soon wore off when they got back to the minibus and found out what had happened.
The callous thieves had clambered under the bus and cut out the part of the exhaust before getting away.
Andrew Johnson, 33, a youth worker for the West View Project, was the allocated driver of the bus.
He said: “It is absolutely unbelievable, I was speechless, everyone was.
“When I got back into the bus to drive back to Hartlepool I put the ignition on and there was just a huge roar.
“At first I had absolutely no idea what it was.”
After the group managed to get back to their base in Miers Avenue, Hartlepool, Andrew took the bus to a nearby mechanic.
He was told that the inside of catalytic converters are lined with platinum, which was most probably why the thieves struck.
“In the middle of such difficult times financially, the last thing you want to have to do is fork out that amount of money because of an incident like this,” added Andrew.
“Somewhere along the line this is going to affect the youngsters because we are obviously £320 worse off.
“We had an absolutely fantastic day doing den building and all different team activities, but this completely took the shine off it.
“Instead of the youngsters talking all the way home about the day and how they had enjoyed it, they were talking about the theft.
A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said: “We have received reports of a theft of a catalytic converter from a van.
“Investigations are ongoing. “
Anyone with any information should speak with officers by calling 01642 302226 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 .
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