THREE women have stolen charity cash destined for war veterans and Swindon’s radiotherapy appeal.

An Old Town shopkeeper was left “mortified” after three women allegedly swiped two charity collection boxes.

One of the women distracted the owner of Crystal Spirit in Victoria Road, while it is believed another stole the Poppy Appeal and Brighter Futures charity collection pots.

The three women were dressed in distinctive black embroidered robes and hijab head coverings.

The stolen Poppy Appeal pot contained more than £100, while Brighter Futures radiotherapy appeal lost an estimated £100 in the theft.

The theft took place at 12.45pm on Saturday.

Shopkeeper Helen Jackson, 62, said: “I’m mortified. I really am. I was so gutted on Saturday.

“One of the ladies went over to the window. She called me over – and of course I went over and tried to work out what it was she was looking at. She was pointing and gesturing – not really saying much.

“It was not until after they’d gone that I realised anything was missing.”

Helen collects for four charities at the Victoria Road shop: Prospect Hospice, Wiltshire Air Ambulance, Brighter Futures and the Poppy Appeal. The collection pots sit next to the till.

After the women had left Helen went to make a cup of tea and it was only when she put the cup down beside the till that she noticed two of the collection pots were gone.

Helen said: “My first thought was, ‘I must have knocked the boxes off.’ But I checked at they weren’t there.”

It was the second theft in the decade that Helen has had a shop in Old Town.

“I’ve been in Old Town for eight-and-a-half years and I’ve never had any problems,” she said.

The last thief to steal from the shop was a two-year-old boy, whose “mortified” mother brought back the sparkling stone he’d pocketed from the store.

But it is the first time that thieves have stolen charity cash from the store.

Helen said: “The Brighter Futures box had been there for six to eight months. It was very heavy, and I’d say there was at least £100 in there.”

A Poppy Appeal collection tin has sat on the Crystal Spirit shop counter for six years, with some customers leaving bank notes in it whenever they can.

Both causes are close to Helen’s heart. She said: “I had to have radiotherapy myself several years ago. To have that radiotherapy centre in Swindon will be an absolute godsend to people.

“Royal British Legion have supported members of my family. They’re the only national charity we support.”

Wiltshire Police have appealed for information that could help track down the alleged thieves.

A spokeswoman said: “We’d encourage all shop owners to be aware of groups of people entering their store, especially if one of the members of the group attempts to distract staff.

“It is always good practice to have CCTV covering the till area.

“It is also worth ensuring collection tins are chained to the counters to make it difficult for them to be stolen.”

A spokesperson for the Royal British Legion said they were “greatly disturbed” to hear of the theft.

“This loss will deprive those in the Service and ex-Service community and their families of much-needed assistance and support from the Legion,” he added.

Catherine Newman, head of Brighter Futures, said: “Along with Helen and the rest of the team at Crystal Spirit, who have supported us for more than a year, we were heartbroken to hear about the theft of our collection tins.

“Appeals like ours rely on the support of people in our local communities and to find out their generosity has been abused like this is extremely upsetting.

“Thankfully, incidents like these are few and far between and we sincerely hope they do not deter the people of Swindon from continuing to get behind the amazing causes that are out there trying to making a difference.”

To report information about the thefts, call the police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.