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The kindness of strangers: Internet well-wishers replace 30,000 Christmas club fund 'stolen' by pub landlord in just THREE daysOne kind-hearted anonymous benefactor gave the villagers 10,000Landlord Malcolm Levesconte is thought to have fled the countryPolice fear he may have jumped into the sea from a ferry bound for France
20:24 GMT, 19 December 2012
Vanished: Malcolm Levesconte, 59, is thought to have fled the country and then jumped into the sea while on a ferry to France
When a pub landlord disappeared with a 30,000 Christmas fund raised by families just before the big day, it came close to ruining village festivities.
But generous strangers restored local faith in the season of goodwill, by replacing the money within days.
The savings club cash vanished along with Malcolm Levesconte, 59, who is thought to have fled the country and then jumped into the sea while on a ferry to France.
More than 60 families had spent all year paying money into the 'thrift' fund at Levesconte's Royal Oak pub in Shrewton, Wiltshire.
They were horrified when it disappeared, with many relying on the
annual pay-out to help with expenses in the run-up to Christmas.
But the cash has now been replaced thanks to a rush of donations from kind-hearted members of the public – including one anonymous benefactor who gave 10,000.
Victims of the theft launched an online appeal at 4pm last Thursday and by Monday at 10.30pm, they had raised their target of 29,000.
Donations came in from all over the world, including South Africa, Australia and America.
Carole Slater, chairperson of Shrewton Parish Council, said she was 'overwhelmed' with the public's generosity.
She said: 'This has been truly humbling. The generosity of strangers at Christmas has been remarkable.
'People who don't know us, people who have never been to our village, logged on and sent money. It brings a tear to my eye.
'Shrewton is back on the map for the right reasons – this is a community looking after its own in the best possible way.
Villagers' savings: More than 60 families had spent all year paying money into the 'thrift' fund at Levesconte's Royal Oak pub in Shrewton, Wiltshire
Shocked: Ian West, right, Wiltshire councillor for Shrewton, was appalled when the fundraising scheme he helped set up was exploited by the pub landlord
'Such a terrible event has brought people together – a real Christmas spirit that is making millions of people smile.'
Pete Elston, the man behind the online campaign, added: 'It has been an astonishing team effort. This is far more than anyone expected.
'It has touched people's hearts in the week before Christmas. We can now give our neighbours the Christmas they had saved all year to pay for. It is astonishing.'
Levesconte was last seen on December 9 and is believed to have boarded a ferry to France from Southampton.
Relief: Incredibly, victims of the theft managed to raise their target within just four days – with one benefactor donating a huge 10,000
Police say they are still hunting him in connection with the theft, but believe he may now be dead.
Officers are working on the theory that Levesconte did not disembark from the ferry in St Malo, France.
Det Sgt Mike Standing said: 'We continue to treat Malcolm Levesconte's disappearance as a missing person inquiry but at this stage we do have to accept there is a possibility that he did not make it to France and may have taken his own life by jumping into the sea from the ferry.
'I would like to appeal to anyone who has information to come and speak to us – his family are facing the terrible prospect that he may have committed suicide.
'It is therefore imperative that we hear from anyone if they have heard from Mr Levesconte.'