POLICE were scrambled to track down a cruel thief who stole a town’s centrepiece Christmas tree – only to discover it had been moved for safekeeping by council workers.
The 11ft tree was left in the Corn Exchange building in the centre of the historic market town of Haddington, East Lothian, last week by the local community council.
When they returned to find it missing, panicked and furious staff called Lothian and Borders Police to report the theft.
But after a national appeal for information, the truth about the great Christmas tree robbery emerged.
East Lothian Council workers had taken the tree away to prevent it being stolen – but had apparently not informed the community council.
And by the time the bungle was discovered, police had issued a nationwide appeal for help in tracking down the thief.
Pointing out that the tree was due to be switched on as part of Sunday evening’s festival events, a police spokesman said: “Whether this has been a childish prank or something more malicious, it has resulted in Haddington’s festive celebrations being hampered and we are eager to trace those responsible.
“Anyone who witnessed the theft of has information that can assist with our enquiries is asked to contact police immediately.”
The story of the theft was also running on national news websites.
Jan Wilson, chairwoman of Haddington Community Council said “We ordered a beautiful 11ft tree from the council and we put it in the Corn Exchange on Wednesday night for safe keeping.
“When we went to pick it up on Sunday for the lighting ceremony it was gone.
“We had heard rumours that a tree had been stolen down the road in North Berwick so we just assumed the same thing had happened to ours.”
Jan said she was delighted when she got a phonecall from Lothian and Borders Police saying the tree had turned up.
“We’re so relieved. It’s very funny really. The East Lothian council obviously picked it up out of the goodness of their heart because they didn’t want anything to happen to it. We’re very grateful to them and we’re looking forward to putting it up next weekend.”
A police spokesman confirmed no crime had been committed and that “Christmas spirit” had been restored in the historic market town.
“It’s very ironic but everyone’s happy that it’s turned up safe and sound,” he said.
But Bruce Wilson, a local Scout leader said: “This just highlights the lack of communication between the councils. It’s embarrassing that they can’t even organise a christmas tree to be lit.
“It’s good that it turned up, it’s something to look forward to next weekend.
“Christmas wouldn’t be the same in Haddington without a tree,” he added.
The tree ended up in the street after other users of the building needed the space for an event they had at the weekend. A spokesman for East Lothian Council blamed the situation on a “failure of communication”. He said: “We have got the tree safely in custody. We picked it up for safekeeping when we saw it outside the Corn Exchange and we kept it safely in a yard.”