A INVESTIGATION is under way after a £20,000 council lorry was stolen from behind the back of a red-faced park ranger.
A source claimed today that keys had been left in the ignition by the employee who was planting bulbs only yards away when he heard the engine fire up and the vehicle race off.
But Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust insisted today that the ranger had accidentally dropped the keys in the park, which had then been found by and the thief.
The flat-back Ford Transit, owned by the council and leased to Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust, was driven off from Ashton’s Victorian Jubilee Park while the employee worked on the flower beds.
If the keys had been left inside the ignition of the unlocked ‘crewcab tipper’ vehicle – in contravention of the Trust’s operational practice – the ranger may now be facing disciplinary action for breaching Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust’s rules.
The theft is similar to an incident in January 2009 where an opportunist thief made off with a WLCT crewcab vehicle in Alexandra Park, Newtown.
But in that incident the worker was literally shovelling fallen leaves into the back of the vehicle when the thief hopped into the cab and drove it away. It was later recovered in a damaged state and had to be written off.
Hindley Green independent Coun Bob Brierley, who has been tipped off about the theft, said: “Systems need to be tightened up if something like this can happen in broad daylight.
“But at the end of the day, we are the ones, the council tax-payers, who end up having to pick up the tab for bigger and bigger insurance premiums.
“When Council staff are being made redundant because of the cuts and services are having to be axed because of the new budget, we need to cut out needless waste.”
A spokesman for Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust said that they “remained hopeful” that the distinctly liveried vehicle would be recovered.
And there was unlikely to be an impact on service delivery as a result of the theft.
Regrettably, he added, this type of incident was becoming “more common” in today’s society.
He said: “On February 10 one of our vehicles – a Ford Transit Crewcab Tipper – was stolen from Jubilee Park in Ashton,
“The driver of the vehicle lost the vehicle keys while performing their park duties and the vehicle was subsequently stolen from site.
“We remain hopeful that the vehicle will still be recovered. However, provision is made for this type of situation as part of our insurance arrangements.
“The vehicle will be replaced and there will be no impact on service delivery as a result of the theft.
“We have conducted an internal investigation into this which is now concluded.”
If anyone has any information about the whereabouts of the vehicle, which was liveried in blue and white WLCT livery registration MK58 ZTC, they are urged to contact the police or Crimestoppers, the confidential line on 0800 555 111.