A scout leader's determined detective work has led to the surprise return of equipment worth up to £15,000 stolen from his group.

The theft of an uninsured trailer and camping equipment owned by The 21st Epping Forest South Scout group, based in Aldersbrook, was discovered on Friday - putting a trip to the Isle of Wight in doubt.

Leaders and members were said to be devastated at the loss and called an emergency meeting for yesterday to discuss what could be done to save the trip.

However, leader William Flaherty, 51, decided to take matters into his own hands and began trawling ebay to see if the thieves would try to sell the equipment.

To his surprise, he eventually spotted a tent being offered with the same distinctive stain as one the group owned and called the seller in Romford.

Mr Flaherty said the shop owner was "mortified", insisting he bought the marquee tent in good faith.

Determined to follow the lead and track down the trailer and the rest of its contents, Mr Flaherty pushed the shopowner for answers and he was given a telephone number.

He said: “I was quite explicit to this man about the bad things that would happen.

"I told him this is going to roll on with the council, the police and the shop’s ebay account was under threat.

“I gave him three hours to do the decent thing.

“We knew that the trailer didn’t have a number plate and it would have left the borough into Essex.

“This is no reflection on the police- but it was up to us to track it down.”

Eventually the trailer and most of its contents were returned and the trip to the Isle of Wight is back on.

Mr Flaherty added: “Some of the pots and pans are still missing, but we’re just elated with the return of the trailer.”

“The important thing for me was that we carried it out in a scouting way - clear and respectful.

"It is what we teach the kids so the adults have to abide by that too.”