Shaftesbury Locals Show Appreciation For Decorations After Christmas Tree Vandalism

A volunteer who helps put up the town’s festive decorations says he is heartened by the support received after adults damaged the Christmas tree at Angel Square. James Thrift was alerted to the vandalism by nearby neighbours and the incident has been caught on camera.

“We are very lucky that there was somebody down there who was looking out of their window,” said James. “They saw the people sat next to the tree. At the next minute, somebody stood up next to the tree and was doing something and half of the lights went out. They went around to the other half of the tree and the other half of the lights went out.”

James Thrift

The residents who saw what was happening called James. When he arrived on the scene it was clear that the vandals had hacked through the wires powering the lights. “We can only think that somebody got a brand-new knife as an early Christmas present because two of the cables had been cut. It’s a brave move because cutting through electricity cables doesn’t go without its risks. The sponsorship sign on the bench there had also been cut through by a very sharp blade,” said James.

James says this isn’t a case of teenagers or kids messing around. “They were adults. The person who saw them do it knew who they were, so we know who they are.” And James says they have been caught on camera. “There is a CCTV camera right in front of them.”

James says the vandals appear to have been drinking heavily. “From the empty wine bottles that they’d managed to balance on the end of the Christmas tree when they left, they were drunk.”

The incident happened quite early on Tuesday evening. “It was just before 6 o’clock and it was fortuitous because we were going out to do some work on the lights. We were able to go down there straight away and fix them,” he said.

James says he is grateful to the locals who called him because they were able to explain what had happened and that made repairing the damage easier and considerably cheaper. “There are hundreds of metres of wire on that tree. If we weren’t aware of what people had done to it, we wouldn’t have been able to find those faults. If we had needed to replace the lights on the tree this would have cost hundreds of pounds.”

The Angel Square Christmas tree

James says it’s ‘galling’ when the hard work of unpaid volunteers and the civic-minded donations to fund the decorations are abused in this way. “I think it has to be recognised that there is so much work that goes into putting up the lights in this town. It’s a small group of people who do it. We do it willingly, nobody is forcing us to do it. We do it for the benefit of everybody in the town,” said James.

Decorating the town is a significant undertaking. “There are four nights of work just to put the lights on the Christmas tree. There are three-thousand lights on the main tree. It’s a month of work over four Sundays and I don’t know how many evenings in between. There are seventy lights on each tree, ten-thousands bulbs in total and miles of cabling joining it all together. It’s a mammoth task and it gets bigger because each year we keep putting more up.”

Earlier in the year, there’s work to raise the money for the lights and trees. “MacLachlan Solicitors and Farnfields sponsor the two big trees. No member of the public or the council pays for any of the trees,” said James.

One good thing has come out of this mindless act. After James revealed what had happened on his Facebook page, many locals expressed their thanks to him and the rest of the volunteers who put the lights up.

“They have shown their gratitude for the work that is done and the fact that the lights in the town do look fantastic when they go on. It’s very noticeable on a dark and dreary December that the town is bright and marvellous. I think it suddenly made people realise that the lights don’t appear by magic. When we are out doing it, people were coming up the whole time and patting us on the back and saying, ‘thank you’ but I think sometimes feel we do get taken for granted, but it doesn’t matter,” said James.

“It’s just a shame that a few people think it’s acceptable or fun to spoil it for everybody. We just need to make them aware that they were watched doing it and they are on camera for having done it. It’s a crime against the whole town,” he added. “These lights are here for the benefit of the whole town You were watched doing it and you are on camera having done it.”

The incident has been reported to Dorset Police. James says he’s made them aware that footage of the vandals in action is available. A police spokesperson told ThisIsAlfred that the force received a report on Thursday evening, enquiries are ongoing and no arrests had been made by Friday afternoon.