AN ARMY veteran was left 'upset' and 'devastated' after foul thieves stole three of his Poppy Appeal collection boxes but he is hailing the community's response.

Over the weekend, three boxes were stolen from a stall set up in Festival Place outside Marks & Spencer.

An 84-year-old ex-Coldstream Guard, Maurice Bastable, has been manning the stall for a fundraising fortnight a year for the past 12 years and was packing up on Saturday when he noticed two boxes containing cash were taken.

The very next day, Maurice was again targeted by thieves at around 1.30pm. But this time, with the help of Festival Place security staff and a fellow Poppy Appeal collector, a trio were apprehended.

Maurice said: "I was upset, very much so, at the time. The mistake they made was coming back on the Sunday as that was when the CCTV caught them."

Bill Sample, Poppy Appeal organiser for the Basingstoke and Overton branch of the Royal British Legion, said: "It is the first time this happened. They must have thought it being the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the boxes would be full.

"Maurice was really devastated. He just broke down [when he told me].

"Usually, I would collect the full boxes in the afternoon, but I had to go on another stall that Saturday. So it was one of those things that if I had been able to collect them, they may not have got away with the money."

However, since the weekend, there has been a wealth of community support in the form of stepping up donations.

More than £300 has been raised via an online fundraising page while Festival Place has also made a donation.

Maurice added: "The response from the public has been absolutely phenomenal.

"I was quite upset at the time but people have been coming up and saying how sorry they are and then there is the social media fundraising. The response from Basingstoke people has been absolutely fantastic."

Mr Sample added Mr Bastable raises as much as £14,000 a year for the Poppy Appeal.

Speaking about the incidents, Neil Churchill, centre director at Festival Place: “At Festival Place we are huge supporters of the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal and were horrified to hear about the thefts. Our staff have given full support to the collector concerned and have supplied the police with CCTV footage to help with their ongoing investigations.

"Festival Place has also made a donation to the Royal British Legion to help cover the stolen donations.”

To donate on the online page, go to

The thefts on Saturday, the day of the official launch of this year's Poppy Appeal campaign, have been reported as having happened at noon and between 5.30pm and 5.45pm.

Two men, aged 28 and 54, and a woman aged 24, all from Basingstoke have been arrested on suspicion of theft in connection with the incidents. They have been released from custody but remain under investigation.

Anyone with information is asked to call the police on 101, quoting crime reference number 44180404375 for the Saturday thefts and 44180405183 for the Sunday incident.

Alternatively, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, where information can be left anonymously.