THIEVES who targeted charity boxes at Bridport's renowned Christmas Tree Festival have been branded 'the lowest of the low'.

Festival chairman Peter Kershaw said it looked like the thieves had been disturbed before they could take money from all the 60 trees' collecting boxes.

But money donated to Save the Children, Bridport Lions and Bridport WI was taken.

He said stealing from a church was low but stealing from charities helping the most destitute people in the world was the 'lowest of the low'.

He said they thought the thieves might have stayed hidden after the festival closed for the night.

He said: "We can't guarantee they are not in another part of the building.

"Once we have done the modifications we will have deadlock on all the doors so this will be a thing of the past.

"The choir was practising on Friday so it is possible they disturbed them.

"It is very sad that they have got the attitude to raid charity boxes at Christmas, particularly as the charities targeted help people less fortunate than even the most impoverished in this land."

The WI was raising money for clean water, Save the Children for abused families and Lions is an overseas support charity, he said.

Mr Kershaw added: "A lot of the ladies were ever so upset because so much work had gone into making things for the trees and then for them to see a thief without any conscience steal.

"Some people would say to steal in a church is the worst crime of all and to compound it by stealing from charities is about the lowest of the low.

"That was the sentiment expressed by just about everybody."

Chris Dobbs from Save the Children said it was sad that money had been stolen.

He said: "I was told our bucket had been ransacked.

"I can't feel vindictive about it because you don't know about how desperate people are, or it may be that someone has a drug need.

"But it is a sad indictment that people want to raid charity boxes, it is pretty low.

"It is also sad because the festival is such a wonderful occasion and everybody works so hard for it."

Vera Whittaker, who has helped the Bridport Lions at the festival for ten years, said: "They just smashed our wooden box and broke the lock off.

"I feel sad for them if they are in such a state to do something like this but surely there are people in Bridport who would help them rather than doing this?

"It is such a shame, it looked so pretty and it just spoils it for everybody.

"You go around doing good for people then somebody seems to kick you."

* In 2006 the church was broken into and all the charity boxes were stolen.