THIEVES have thwarted a Chester Santa’s attempt to spread festive cheer – by stealing the van he planned to use as his sleigh!

For around six years father-of-nine Lee Challinor, 39, has been donning the bushy beard and iconic red suit to entertain youngsters across Blacon.

But after his tipper truck was taken on Thursday night (November 28) his plans have had to be put on ho-ho-hold while he desperately tries to find a replacement.

Luckily Lee thinks he has now found a solution but cannot yet say whether he will be ready to take to the streets this Thursday, as originally planned.

Chester and District Standard:

Lee in action as Santa.

He told the Standard: “I feel sick to the stomach. I’m glad we’ve sorted something out but from a business point of view and as a family man I’m losing money every day I don’t have my van.

“The insurance company are being a nightmare too – they’re quick to take money off you but not so quick when it comes to paying out. I’m not too impressed with the police either.

“It’s all been absolutely devastating.”

But he added: "They may have stole my vehicle but they won’t take Christmas from Blacon! Onwards and upwards!"

Lee, who works as a joiner and is well-known for his fundraising work in Blacon, said he and his family had returned from the Christmas Lantern Parade when his van was stolen.

His daughter had just returned from work in Ellesmere Port when she saw it being driven away between 8.30pm and 9pm.

“She had just got off the bus, came in and said to her sister ‘where’s my dad going?’,” said Lee, who lives on Melbourne Road.

Chester and District Standard:

Lee Challinor is well-known in Blacon having raised thousands to put defibrillators in every school and community centre.

“She said ‘nowhere, he’s in there!’ She then said to me she’d just seen my truck driving down the road and I said ‘shut up! Some things are funny and that’s not one of them!’.”

Realising his Ford Transit had indeed gone missing, Lee then tried to give chase but couldn’t see any trace of the vehicle. He then called the police.

A spokesman for Cheshire Police said: "Officers were quickly deployed to try to track down the vehicle, but to no avail, and continue to investigate the circumstances around the incident.

"Anyone with information or who may have seen someone acting suspiciously in the area at that time is urged to get in touch by calling 101, quoting IML 576271.

"Information can also be passed anonymously to the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111."

Lee, who is also now a grandfather, said there had been a number of van thefts from the area recently, including one with a motorbike in the back.

This is not the first time his role as Blacon’s Santa has come under threat. In 2017 this newspaper reported that Lee had almost quit after receiving abuse on social media.