By Simon Tomlinson
PUBLISHED: 07:28 EST, 13 November 2012 | UPDATED: 08:18 EST, 13 November 2012
This is the moment a shameless woman thief snatches a poppy collection tin minutes before a Remembrance Day parade.
She was caught red-handed on CCTV grabbing the box while her male accomplice distracted an employee.
Meanwhile, proud veterans were preparing to march through Hockley in Essex to mark Remembrance Sunday.
Disgraceful behaviour: A woman is caught on CCTV pinching a poppy appeal collection tin moments before veterans paraded through the village to mark Remembrance Day
The collection contained an estimated £200 which had been due to be donated to the Royal British Legion.
Stunned shop owner Peter Wood, 49, said: 'It’s a total disgrace what they did.
'While everyone in the country is paying our respects to British troops they are here helping themselves to charity cash.
'If they have one ounce of decency in them they will return the money to the local Royal British Legion where it belongs.'
The thieves are believed to have targeted Poppy Appeal tins at another two stores in nearby Rochford, Essex, just hours after the original theft at Costcutter in Hockley at 1.20pm on Sunday.
Surveying their target: The woman and her male accomplice, descirbed as being of eastern European appearance, entered the store at around 1.20pm on Sunday
Teamwork: The man prepares to distract the shop employee to allow his partner-in-crime to move in for the poppy tin
Snatch and grab: The woman takes the tin, which contained around £200 for the Royal British Legion
The spate of thefts has left locals, who joined a Remembrance Day parade through the town centre at 2pm on Sunday, disgusted.
Len James, 70, who has organised poppy collections in the Hockley area on behalf of the Royal British Legion for the past eight years, says locals would not allow the raids to ruin the town’s proud Remembrance Day parade.
He said: 'You don’t let them beat you. You just do it again next year. It has spoilt a good weekend but you can’t let the mindless one or two ruin the whole lot.
'We had about 200 people in Hockley for the parade on Sunday.'
Police are now hunting the pair, who are described as being of Eastern European appearance, aged in their late 20s and early 30s and both dressed in black.
Show of respect: Veterans took part in parades up and down the country on Sunday to mark Remembrance Day in honour of comrades who have died in battle since World War I
Poignant: The poppy appeal raises money for the Royal British Legion which provides care, advice and support to serving members of the Armed Forces, veterans of all ages and their families
A police spokesman said: 'Police have appealed for information after three Poppy Appeal tins were stolen from shops in Rochford and Hockley.
'Officers were called to the Costcutter store in Main Road, on Sunday November 11 following reports that a Royal British Legion collection box had been taken.
'A man and a woman entered the shop at about 1.20pm and while the man distracted a member of staff the woman stole the collecting tin, containing an unknown sum of money.
'The man and woman were described as being Eastern European, aged in their late 20s or early 30s, and were both dressed in black.
'The man and woman are also thought to be responsible for a similar theft at Tates Spar shop at West Street Rochford at 2pm and at Sanders Food and Wine shop in Ashingdon Road, Rochford at 2.30pm.'
The sickening theft comes just weeks after vandals ripped a metal plaque, containing the names of brave soldiers who died in the Second World War, off a war memorial in nearby Brentwood, Essex.
Anyone with information in connection to the Poppy Appeal thefts is asked to call the Rayleigh area investigation team on 101.