Pony charity appeals for help to beat thieves after hundreds stolen from honesty box

  • The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT) is having to build “Fort Knox” after thieves stole hundreds of pounds from an honesty box — and is asking for ideas that may help prevent future thefts.

    The metal box, which held proceeds from parking at the DPHT headquarters, was found broken open and the stone cairn around it destroyed, last week.

    DPHT chief executive Dru Butterfield told H&H there was about £350 inside, boosted by Christmas visitors, but the charity is losing more every day as it has nowhere for drivers to pay their parking money.

    “It’s just one of the worst things that could have happened,” she said. “The cairn, which had been lovingly built with the security box encased in it, has been absolutely wrecked, they jemmied it open, and we lost all the donations from one of our busiest times.”

    Donate to the trust online

    Dru said four stonemasons had already offered to rebuild the cairn.

    “The British public is fantastic for animal charities,” she said. “But the problem is what to rebuild. Will someone come along again, now we’ve been hit, and have another go, and destroy it? Will we now have to install CCTV, which will cost more, or a high-end security system for a donation cairn in a car park?”

    Dru said the car park cannot be manned. The trust has a QR code on the gate, which can be used to pay the £3 daily parking charge, but drivers do not tend to do so.

    “We’re National Trust tenants, which costs us about £7,000 per year, and the car park is how we get some of that back, and pay for the ponies’ hay,” Dru said.

    “It’s not cheap to be here, and run the education and visitor centre, but it’s to ensure people can learn the story of the Dartmoor pony. Our work is to secure the future of the Dartmoor pony, on Dartmoor, and having the venue is the showcase.

    “We struggled all through Covid, and are due to be opening in February, and then this. I just couldn’t believe it.”

    Dru said she is trying to stay positive, adding: “I pray they raised our donation box because their need was greater; I have to tell myself that, which makes me feel a bit better.

    “But if anyone has a foolproof idea for an anti-theft device; we need Fort Knox, please get in touch.

    “We can’t man the car park but we do find the honesty-box approach works. People sometimes put in £5 or £10 notes because they know it’s for keeping the Dartmoor pony on the moor. And the love of the Dartmoor pony is what it’s all about.”

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