Community members have spoken out against thoughtless thieves who took the Earby minibus on a joyride, before returning it in a damaged state.

Doris Haigh, chairman of the minibus committee, said that someone entered the car park of the New Road Community Centre between 11.30pm last Wednesday and 9am on Friday and drove off with the vehicle before bringing it back with damage down both sides.

“At some point, they hit a car because there was damage to a panel and sliding door on the passenger’s side,” said Mrs Haigh. “Then on the way back they caught the driver’s side panel on the gatepost of the community centre.”

She said the insurance company would soon come out to assess the damage to the W-reg vehicle, which could be written off.

“The minibus is a mess, but it’s drivable and still perfectly legal. However, the track the sliding door runs on is bent, making it difficult to open.”

She said the well-used 16-seat minibus was a lifeline for several local groups, including the Scouts, luncheon club, stroke support group and a theatre-going group.

“The community of Earby raised £32,000 to buy the minibus nearly 12 years ago and it took four years just to raise that money.”

David Hartley, chairman of the New Road Community Centre Association, said: “It’s served us very well. Lots of people have used it.” But Mr Hartley said that whoever had taken it out for a “quick spin” could be spoiling the service and he feared that a new vehicle might be required.

“A minute’s thoughtlessness could disadvantage a whole community,” Mr Hartley said. “This has come at an unexpected time.

“We had expected that bus to go on for another year or two, but it might just be for short term use now.”

“It could cost too much to get it repaired,” added Mrs Haigh, who said the minibus committee was due to meet this week to discuss the future of the vehicle.

The incident is under investigation. Policehave logged it as a road traffic collision and not a crime report.