Heartless thieves are stealing dwindling supplies from distraught flood victims — by BOAT.
Evacuated homes in the Somerset Levels have been plundered by gangs in boats leaving police powerless to give chase across fields which have become huge lakes.
Even emergency teams working round the clock to help drenched residents facing their fifth week underwater have had rescue quad bikes stolen.
Police have been forced to ramp up their patrols with horses and helicopters in a bid to catch the opportunistic burglars who have been scouting out empty homes for loot.
Farmer James Winslade – whose entire 790-acre farm is under water – has been left without heating or hot water after thieves siphoned 600 gallons of oil from his tank.
The night-time raid in the early hours of Saturday not only left his family cold and even more miserable, but the thoughtless yobs also broke his heating system.
Father-of-three James, 40, spotted a van in his farmyard just hours before the break-in but it drove off before police were able to cross the half-mile lake to his home.
James, who has been marooned since New Year’s Day, said: “I’ve got a wife and four-year-old twins and a nine-year-old.
“We’ve still got firewood so we’ve lit fires, but the water is rising fast now and even the barn that was dry now has water in it.”
The raid at his West Yeo farm in Bridgwater comes after nearby sewage tanks flooded leaving raw waste to lap against his home.
He added: “It’s getting to an inch and a half from the front door.”
James, who has become a voice for the desperate and furious flood victims, says neighbours have told him their abandoned homes have been targeted by gangs in boats.
He added: “The problem is that we’re getting so many flooding tourists and sightseers coming down here that it’s hard to keep track of who’s around.
“We’ve had the fire and police down here a lot but at night it’s very isolated.
“Some of the homes that are empty are being targeted, and they are coming across the water on boats to get to them.”
A spokesman for Avon and Somerset confirmed that were investigating crimes in flooded communities and appealed for anyone who spotted suspicious people and vehicles to get in touch.
Chief Supt Caroline Peters, heading the response to the floods major incident, said: “We are aware of reports in the community of suspicious people and vehicles being seen in the area, particularly after dark.
“We have also heard rumours of people being out in boats at night, but at this stage we have no information to substantiate that.
“Our message to the community is that we will do all we can to protect you and your property.
“I would ask everyone to be alert, to look out for your neighbours, and to call us at any time if we are needed.”