A COLD-HEARTED thief made off with a charity box from a cafe containing £80 intended for vulnerable children.

Staff at the Lunch 4 U cafe in St Barnabas Road, Woodford Green were preparing to open when the man knocked on the window.

Val Martinelli, 59, who owns the cafe, said: “It was pouring with rain and I felt sorry for this chap so I let him in early.

“He asked for four rolls so I started making those in the kitchen.

"Then his phone rang and because we had the radio on loudly he called to me that he would have to go outside to take it.”

When Ms Martinelli came out of the kitchen with the man’s food, he had disappeared with the ‘Children’s Society’ charity box from the counter and a crate of Coca-Cola.

Ms Martinelli said: “What kind of lowlife steals money intended to help vulnerable children?

“It’s sick to do something like this.”

Lunch 4 U is not the first business in the area to be targeted by charity box thieves.

In July the SOS Sri Lanka charity shop in nearby Snakes Lane East had a box containing £30 stolen by three men in their twenties.

“I heard about what happened to them,” said Ms Martinelli.

“I suppose it shouldn’t surprise you. In the seven years I have been here it has definitely got worse.

“There are quite a few shady characters around. I have had tables and chairs and even plant pots nicked from outside.

“We are going to be a bit more wary now. We will leave our bolt up in the mornings.

“I told the local bobbies about it, but I wasn’t given a crime reference number and I’ve heard nothing since, so I’m not sure what’s happening. I suppose I should have called the police to check.”

The theft took place at around 6.15am on November 19.

Ms Martinelli describes the thief as a tubby man in a bobble hat with an Eastern European accent.

Redbridge Police have been asked to comment.