MORE than £6,000 has already been raised for the people of Shrewton who lost more than £29,000 from the Royal Oak Christmas thrift club.

A special donation site was set up at by Shrewton Parish Council yesterday afternoon and the aim is to raise £29,000 by December 24.

More than 60 families, including young children, paid money into the scheme each week and they were due to get their money back this week.

But the estimated £29,000 has disappeared and the pub landlord, Malcolm Levesconte, 59, has not been seen since Sunday.

Police have confirmed he boarded a ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo in France that evening and an international manhunt is underway to track him down.

“The priority is to help families with young children who have no other way of paying for Christmas,” said Shrewton Parish Council chairman Carole Slater. “There is an extraordinary community spirit here – this is reaching deep into people’s hearts. Shrewton Charitable Trust is overseeing the way funds are distributed.”

Within four hours of the website going live, money started pouring in.

“Other organisations are already planning to help,” said Ms Slater. “Shrewton Churches Together, Shrewton Football Club, Rollestone Manor, Blue Dog I.T., Bridge Garage and many others have already come on board.”

Ms Slater said the village was in a state of shock but it is already taking steps to help people. “Something good will come out of this. At the moment I don’t really know what it will be. But we will make sure it does.”

Ian West, who represents Till Valley on Wiltshire Council, said: “We have got just over a week to give our neighbours back their Christmas. I know families who have saved all year, trusting their pub landlord to look after their money. Some have lost £2,500. This is a traditional way of saving; it is a way of life in this Salisbury Plain community. We don’t want to let them down.”

Ms Slater added: “Shrewton has made national television headlines like never before. We’re on the map for a bad reason. We have one week left to keep it on the map and make headlines for a good reason. What is happening here is extraordinary.”