A Wickford man had a double dose of bad luck after crooks stole his van off his driveway – with his valuable model aircraft collection in the back.

“Gutted” Martin Mead was watching TV at his home in London Road, Wickford, on Sunday night when he heard his Mercedes Sprinter van screeching away.

Because he had been flying his miniature airplanes at an event in Canewdon earlier that day, Martin had left his prized collection inside the locked-up van for the night.

The models, painstakingly collated over 20 years and worth around £12,000, were not insured and Martin is devastated by the loss.

He said: “It was about 10.20pm and my son came rushing down the stairs and said ‘I thought that was you getting in the van outside. If it’s not you, who is it?’ “I was watching TV and was just about to go to bed at the time.

“I ran to the window and saw my van being driven off. I was so shocked somebody would have the audacity to come on to the driveway. I don’t even know how they got inside it.

“I jumped in my wife’s Fiesta and followed them up the road, but I lost them.”

The silver van has the number plate EN56 XCV and police are investigating the incident.

Among the many model planes stolen were replica Second World War fighters, as well as a distinctive red and white model jet.

Many took Martin two years to intricately piece together by hand, while others were bought by the 47-year-old, who has been into the hobby since he was a child.

He said: “One of the planes is massive and has a 100-inch wingspan. It’s very distinctive.

“I’m clinging to the hope that the thieves have dumped my collection somewhere, as they probably only wanted the van.

“I am asking anyone who knows anything to get in touch.”

Martin, a food wholesaler, has notified the model aircraft community and asked them to keep their eyes out for his planes.

He said: “I’ve rang round every shop there is and been on internet forums. “I’ve been into model aircraft since I was a kid. I’m absolutely gutted.”

Anyone with information should contact the police on 101, or call Martin on 07973734228.