Lead theft at blast soldier’s business

Rod and Donna Payne survey the damage
Rod and Donna Payne survey the damage

A FUNERAL parlour set up by a soldier who lost a leg in a Taliban bomb blast has had £4,000 worth of lead stolen from its roof.

Christopher Howard had his right leg and hand blown off while serving in Afghanistan in Sangin, Helmand province back in 2009 and used more than £70,000 of his compensation to help set up a business with his mum, Donna Payne.

That business, Payne and Sons Funeral Directors in Seaside, has gone from strength to strength since it opened last September – carrying out 60 funerals in the last nine months.

But this week it was left in disarray after thieves stole thousands of pounds worth of lead from its roof – hours before Eastbourne was hit by a huge downpour.

The water damage affected four rooms – including the usually calm and serene lounge where families meet to discuss arrangements for their loved one’s service.

And it ran over a framed photo montage of brave Christopher during his passing out parade – the only remaining photo of the soldier before his injury.

His heartbroken mum, faced with thousands of pounds of repair work, hit out at the thieves.

She told the Herald, “I cannot understand why someone would do this. This was my dream and I have been working hard to keep the business going for Chris.

“Rod (her husband) worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day to get the building up to scratch. Now we are faced with all this damage. It is just terrible.”

Chris, who has just turned 23 and was a double award-winner at the last Eastbourne Achievers Awards, is still undergoing rehab for his injuries, including getting to grips with a new prosthetic leg.

He is due back in Eastbourne to help run the family business within the next four months and, as his mum explained, she had wanted it to be perfect for him when he returns.

“He is currently still having rehab and should be free to concentrate on that,” she said.

“He should not have to worry about things like this. He has been through enough.”

But she defiantly vowed to stay open, saying it is a case of ‘business as usual’.

“It is a set-back but we won’t close. We wouldn’t do that to the families we are working with.

“Hopefully we can rescue the photographs of Chris. They are so precious and I do not have copies.

“I got them from the army and would be absolutely gutted if they are ruined for good.”

Eastbourne Police are investigating the theft and anyone with information should contact the force on 0845 60 70 999.

Mrs Payne said CCTV captured by the parlour was inconclusive and that in all likelihood the thieves had avoided the cameras by approaching from the side.

“I really don’t understand why people don’t just get a job instead of stealing from other people,” she added.

“To be honest, whoever has done this are scumbags.”