thieves who staged a £20,000 raid at a support centre for blind servicemen were today blasted for “stealing from our heroes”.
The robbers broke into the grounds of the Linburn Centre, run by the Scottish National Institution for the War Blinded, in Wilkieston, West Lothian.
Centre bosses said the 100 ex-service personnel who are members – all of whom are blind or visually impaired – were left “very upset” at having their sanctuary “violated”.
Staff have been forced to spend much-needed funds on an alarm system to protect the centre from further break-ins.
A green and yellow John Deere agricultural buggy worth £15,000 was stolen from a garage on site, along with a power washer, chainsaw, and an air compressor.
The equipment was used to tend the expansive gardens where the former servicemen enjoyed walks and spending time with comrades.
The thieves even stole road maps and a bottle of screen wash as they emptied the premises between 5pm on Monday and 10am on Tuesday.Neighbours spotted a white high-sided van in the grounds at around 9pm, which centre staff believe was used to escape with the haul.
Centre manager Sheila Mutch said: “We provide services for ex-servicemen who are visually impaired.
“Whoever has stolen this property has taken it from them.
“The equipment was used to make sure the gardens were nice for them to go for walks and things. The gardens are an important part of the centre.
“Our members are very upset. The centre is a little community where they feel safe. This break-in feels like a violation and the feeling of safety has been lost. We’ve been here three years and had no problems and now we have to think about security. Really, these thieves are stealing from our heroes.”
The centre helps former servicemen, aged between 16 and 100, who have been in conflicts, including the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ms Mutch added: “We had a sit-on lawnmower in the garage which was left behind, but I think they tried to steal it. The key was in the ignition but they might have decided it would be too noisy to start up.
“We’ve had to install an alarm on the garage linked directly to the police so that has left the centre out of pocket.”
Kevin Gray MM, chief executive officer of Royal British Legion Scotland, said: “The Royal British Legion Scotland is extremely disappointed to hear about the theft at the Linburn Centre.
“Scottish War Blinded provides valuable services and a safe and friendly environment for veterans who are living with a visual impairment.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Officers are keen to speak to anyone who remembers seeing any suspicious activity in the Wilkieston area on Monday evening into Tuesday morning. Similarly, anyone with information relevant to this inquiry is also asked to contact police immediately.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact Police Scotland on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.