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It's a tree triumph

PUBLISHED: 14:26 23 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:34 07 July 2010

You won't spoil our Christ-mas! That's been the rallying cry from residents, businesses and civic leaders to vandals who cut down Dereham's town centre Christmas tree.

You won't spoil our Christ-mas! That's been the rallying cry from residents, businesses and civic leaders to vandals who cut down Dereham's town centre Christmas tree.

Just hours after the town was left in shock at the attack on the 35ft festive centrepiece, offers of help to replace the tree were flooding in.

And a smile is back on the face of the town after community spirit triumph-ed over the Scrooge-like criminal damage.

Mayor Ann Bowyer said: "This shows that people in Dereham are very community spirited.

"We won an award from the county council for being just that earlier this year and this shows that when the chips are down people really rally round.

"Since the new tree has gone up, I have been overwhelmed by the number of people thanking us for reinstating it. It clearly was something people felt very strongly about."

Deputy mayor Robert Hambidge said: "Everybody rallied round and it is quite overwhelming that people felt that strongly about something like a Christmas tree."

The original tree was cut down by vandals late on Wednesday night. It was found lying in the Market Place car park with its lights smashed on Thursday morning.

Children were seen crying at the sight of it being cut up by workmen and taken away.

Close examination of the stump by experts has since revealed the tree was probably cut down manually and not with a chainsaw as was first thought.

The tree fell away from shops and roads, instead hitting a bin near town centre parking bays.

Dereham's ageing CCTV system failed to catch the offenders in the act, as the roving camera panned away from the tree when it was still standing and returned to record it on the ground.

The cameras are due to be replaced in the new year as part of a £3.5m upgrade to equip Breckland towns with new digital equipment which can respond to movement and zoom in on faces and number plates.

A spokesman for Breckland Council

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said: "The irony is that these new cameras would have caught this activity. It highlights why we have invested in CCTV."

Within hours there was a huge response from the community and the town council was flooded with offers of help, from people offering trees from their garden to cash donations.

Dereham Police gave £200 while the Theatre Royal Surgery donated £50, as did a Mr Howlett of Toftwood and QD donated £100 worth of decorations.

The new tree has been donated by Beetley aggregates firm Barker Bros who also donated the original one.

The lights were repaired and reinstalled free of charge by Mark Brown Electrical and Access Rentals in Wymondham donated a cherry picker. The town council's tree surgeon Jonathan Cheetham organised the installation of the tree,

With the new tree now in pride of place councillor John Gretton had a special Dickensian Christmas message for the person who chopped down the original.

"Even Ebenezer Scrooge had to change his mind in the end," he said.

The town council is ensuring this tree is fitted with steel wire around the trunk to prevent any more vandalism and Dereham police inspector Paul Wheatley said his officers would be keeping an extra close eye on it.

He added: "We are still making enquiries and I want to reassure the public that we are not putting this matter aside but it is a top priority for our Safer Neighbourhood Team. We want to hear from any witnesses or anyone with information."

After the first tree was cut down, Peter Dunning, one of the workers who chose and erected it three weeks ago, said: "I feel sick as a pig. It took us four hours to find this beautiful tree. It is a pity it didn't hit whoever did this in the head when it fell."

Mr Dunning's colleague Ted Smith said: "There was one little lad here who was crying and wanting to find out what happened to his tree. He wanted to know if Santa was still coming. This is what whoever has cut the tree down has done."

Anyone with information about the crime should contact police on 0845 456 4567.

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