A gang of brazen thieves chopped down a giant Christmas tree and made off with it in a van.

The tree, which enjoyed pride of place outside Goddenwick reindeer farm, near Lindfield, was felled with a chainsaw on Saturday evening.

It had been decorated with hundreds of coloured sparkly lights, which were also taken.

The dismayed owners are now offering a lifetime’s supply of free Christmas trees to anyone who can help return the missing spruce to its rightful spot.

They believe the thieves chopped down the 14 foot tree even as oblivious customers drove past on their way home, before they chucked it on to the back of a van and drove off.

Will Kidger, who owns the tree, said: “The only reason we had it up there was to give people a bit of Christmas cheer – but now that has been completely ruined.

“This was one of our best trees and we are just so annoyed that someone has come along and taken it.

“It’s not the value of the tree, although it was expensive. It’s the fact that someone would do this when Christmas is so near.”

Police believe the thieves are lucky to be alive after discovering they had cut through a live cable to steal the lights.

Liz Kidger, who lives on the farm, said: “Every year we have a problem with people stealing lights. “Only last week someone tried to steal a reindeer light we had made. “But this is the first time they’ve taken the whole tree. “Lots of people probably saw them doing it as they were driving past but they probably didn’t give it a second thought.

“I just can’t understand why someone would do this – it’s disgusting.”

A spokeswoman for Sussex Police said: “A tree was stolen from Goddenwick Farm near Lindfield at some time between 6pm and 9pm on Saturday December 15.

“Anyone with information should call 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”