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Village devastation after raids

PUBLISHED: 21:38 03 December 2002 | UPDATED: 13:08 03 March 2010

FEAR today consumes the world of a 31-year-old woman after her worst nightmare came true and post office raiders, who had already robbed once that day, returned.

file pics of colin, geoffrey lincoln

could get anthony fowler pic off mid suffolk website if needed>

FEAR today consumes the world of a 31-year-old woman after her worst nightmare came true and post office raiders, who had already robbed once that day, returned.

The first horror traumatised Sarah Buttle and Saturday's revisit was the final straw for her family who have now decided to close the business.

Crime Reporter Tracey Sparling reveals how the crimes have affected the whole village.

STOLEN cash has gone, and may never be recovered.

But banknotes pale into insignificance when you consider the full effect of the robberies on Stonham Parva post office.

The post office itself looks like being confined to a relic of the past –its doors remain closed in the wake of raiders striking twice in one day on Saturday, and for the third time in just over three weeks.

Police believe it is likely the culprits were the same men on each occasion.

Suffolk's sympathy goes out to sub-postmistress Sarah Buttle who has been traumatised all over again and is receiving counselling after her worst nightmare came true and the raiders returned.

As the shockwaves move from the post office on the main A140 road, many villagers are feeling "the devastation" the crime has caused.

Today Stonham district councillor Anthony Fowler said the village was still reeling from the crime.

He said: "The village has been devastated by this event.

"It is heartbreaking for me, because as a district councillor I am fighting to retain the area's post offices but at the same time these rural post offices are very vulnerable to wags who think this is a great pastime.

"The security isn't there and it was not an accident that this happened –the offenders had obviously done their research and saw the fortifications were not there."

Mr Buttle told the Star after the first raid how he had campaigned unsuccessfully to get funding for more barriers to be installed at his post office counter.

Mr Fowler added: "I saw Needham Market's post office is completely isolated from the shop and idiot-proof, but it is impossible to do that with a local post office without destroying the whole local flavour of the place.

"I can understand the family's decision to close. Clearly anyone in that situation, faced with guns, would think 'I can do something better in this life.'"

But the closure will leave villagers having to travel to Stowupland or Needham Market for the nearest shop.

There are no shops in neighbouring Earl Stonham, Stonham Aspal or Mickfield.

"It is a real headache for older people, and those without cars," said Mr Fowler.

He added there was still a fear the raiders could return again if not caught, and said: "If they are not stopped, one feels they could be a tragic situation happening."

Stonham Parva and Little Stonham parish council chairman Mike Cooper-Reade said: "The closure of the shop will be a big blow to everybody, particularly pensioners. There has been a lot done to improve facilities in the shop.

"The situation facing pensioners is very difficult as the nearest post office now is probably Mendlesham and bus services are few and far between. It is going to hit quite a lot of the community.

"It is a great pity that the actions of just a few have caused this."

John Izzard from Little Stonham said the shop's closure would be another nail in the coffin for the community.

He said: "This is a big blow for a lot of older people in the village. The post office serves a very real need and this is shame. But you can't live in the past and you have to face the fact that times are changing."

But a spokesman for the Post Office insisted no final decision had been made on closing the post office.

He said: "The office remains closed at the moment and is unlikely to open again until after Christmas, as far as we are concerned.

"No decision has yet been taken on re-opening the office at the moment. We are offering all the support and counselling to the sub-postmistress and the family at what is a very difficult time for them."

But hundreds of post offices in East Anglia are still under threat of closure despite being offered a £48 million Government lifeline this week .

One Suffolk village sub-postmaster welcomed news of a cash injection to rural post offices but said it needed to be spent wisely to safeguard services.

Godfrey Lincoln from Lincoln Stores and Post Office at Westleton, near Leiston, said the cash injection needed to be spent wisely, and stressed it was vital sub-postmasters were able to maintain their present income levels if more closures were to be prevented.

"It is a real blow to a community when they lose their post office so this is a great boost that will hopefully reverse that trend. At the very least it gives those post offices still open fresh heart," said Mr Godfrey.

Ministers are due to unveil the largest ever support package for rural post offices which will see more than £16 million a year – out of a national pot of £450 million over three years – given to Post Office Ltd to aid the regional network.

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Just last month, Suffolk Police launched a campaign to protect post offices.

Officers are visiting every post office in the county and advising people how they can prevent a robbery, and what to do should they become a victim.

"We know this type of crime tends to be seasonal, with offences usually occurring in December and January," said Detective Chief Inspector Paul Marshall.

"The recent attacks on post offices in Pakenham and Stonham Parva occurred much earlier in the year than is usual, but in other respects the robberies have followed a discernible pattern."

Extra surveillance is being done at post offices considered 'at risk' and patrols including use of the police helicopter are being increased.

Anyone seen paying close attention to a post office should be reported to police.

The culprits of Saturday's raid escaped in a grey Vauxhall Omega, index number M308 NOV heading towards Ipswich.

There is a strong possibility the car was in Diss between 9.30am and 10am that day.

Anyone who has any information about post office crime should call police on 01473 613500 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

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