A HUNT has been launched for a gang of thieves targeting Hampshire post boxes, it has been revealed.

It comes after three have been stolen from sites across the New Forest in just the last month.

Thieves have targeted three post boxes in the New Forest, leaving residents forced to find alternative locations to post their mail while the Royal Mail organise their replacement.

The boxes, which cost about £1,000 each to replace, are either being stolen for their scrap value or for collectors.

Two of the post boxes were stolen within 24 hours, one in Vaggs Lane, Hordle and the other in Arnewood Bridge Road, Sway, between 5pm on April 22 and 5pm the next day.

The thefts were noticed when postal staff arrived at the locations to make their daily collection.

A third post box has also been reported stolen in Hightown Hill, near Ringwood, but it is still unclear when this one was targeted.

Officers are now working with the Royal Mail in a bid to track the boxes down and find those responsible – looking into the possibility that the three are linked.

The red post box in Vaggs Lane was a stand-alone box, which was stolen along with its rod and concrete base.

Mike Norman, a Royal Mail spokesman, said: “Royal Mail urges anyone with any information to contact the police.

“Royal Mail apologises to any of its customers who have been inconvenienced by these thefts. Customers are advised to use other post boxes in the area or drop their mail off at any Post Office branch.

“Boxes are cleared six days a week and we would advise anyone who has any concerns about their mail to contact our customer services team.”

Robert Cole, from the Letterbox Study Group, which keeps a database detailing the origins of more than 115,000 post boxes across Britain, said boxes were stolen to sell on to a collector or for scrap metal.

He said: “You would have to be very determined to steal a pillar box as they can sometimes be up to five feet below the ground.

“The ones stolen appear to be either from walls or lamp posts, which would probably fetch at least £200 each.

“Yes, they have a financial value, but to me they have infinitely more heritage value as a living part of a landscape, and the stories they tell have genuine value, in my mind.”

Anyone with information about the thefts should contact Hampshire police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. If you are worried about lost post, call Royal Mail’s customer service line on 08457 740 740.