A community has reacted with horror after callous thieves stole the Christmas tree which marks the focal point of local festive celebrations.
Offenders removed the nine-foot tall tree in New Springs and the lights that had covered it had also vanished.
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They also struck just a week before the popular annual event with carols sung around the tree and Father Christmas visiting to meet children.
Community leaders and councillors have not held back in their condemnation of the thieves, who cleanly cut through the tree's trunk leaving a stump of just a few inches.
They also cut through all the lights as bare wires were visible when the crime was discovered on Tuesday morning.
John Hulme, chair of the Forum of Aspull Whelley and New Springs (Fawns) which organises the carol service, said: "I'm absolutely gutted. To pinch a community CHristmas tree is the lowest of the low, it really is.
"We're all volunteers and we put hours in making bags of sweets for the kids, putting all the posters up and providing tea and coffee along with mince pies and biscuits.
"It builds throughout the year leading up to the night when everyone comes together to have a good time and sing carols around the tree."
Ward representative Coun Chris Ready said: "It's a disgrace that this has happened. The community and the councillors have worked together over the year to get this up and running and it has grown and grown.
"It's disappointing and sad for everybody involved."
The councillors are now frantically working behind the scenes to get another tree installed in time for the carol evening on Tuesday December 4.
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) was also made aware of the theft on Tuesday morning.
The theft, which occurred on the land opposite the Crown Hotel on Wigan Road, happened some time between Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
The event next Tuesday starts at 7pm.