A man who helped steal the Dear Zoo van, leading to the cancellation of the UK tour of the children’s play, has been jailed.
Darius Diminskas, 34, admitted at Peterborough Crown Court to conspiring to steal a motor vehicle and was sentenced to two years and four months in prison on Wednesday, Cambridgeshire Police said.
The defendant was described in court as a “key player” in the theft of the Dear Zoo van, used by the production company behind the show, and of two other Mercedes Sprinter vans in Peterborough, the force said.
The play Dear Zoo is based on books by children’s author Rod Campbell and had been travelling to theatres all over the UK before the vehicle was stolen in April.
The show was staged to celebrate 35 years since Dear Zoo was published.
It is the story of a child who writes to a zoo asking to be sent a pet.
The stolen van, which had a picture of a lion on its side, contained more than £41,000 of stage props including a life-size monkey and frog costumes, police said.
The production company wrote on Twitter at the time that it was “devastating”, and that “with regret” it had cancelled the rest of the dates on its tour.
The Dear Zoo van had its tracking device removed, it was fitted with cloned number plates and driven from Peterborough towards the A1.
Two more vans, owned by glaziers and containing power tools, were stolen in Peterborough in May.
Contents of the three vans were worth £125,000, police said.
Diminskas, of Eaglesthorpe, Peterborough, was linked to the thefts by his own vehicle.
Police found blank vehicle keys, number plates, a GPS tracking unit and V5 registration documents for multiple vehicles at his home, along with a power tool and trolley belonging to the victims.
Pc Craig Trevor said: “Diminskas initially denied any involvement then later claimed he had been asked to give two men a lift to the homes of the vehicles in return for a fee.
“Our investigation revealed Diminskas to be one of the key players in these sophisticated thefts moving stolen vehicles across multiple counties.
“Not only were the victims left without their vehicles, they also lost their valuable power tools and equipment they require to do their work.
“The owners of the Dear Zoo van were forced to cancel their live tour, costing them thousands of pounds.”