Caterer Tony Welti says his livelihood has been wrecked by thieves who stole his distinctive burger van.

The culprits hacked through the van's lock and power cables in the middle of the night, attached it to a car and sped away.

They were going so fast, a guard at the level crossing at Littlehaven in Horsham was woken by the sound of them rattling over the railway line at 4am.

Tony, from Horsham, is desperate to get his van back as it is his only means of income.

He said: "It's how I keep a roof over my head and food on the table."

He believes there is a good chance of recovering it as the van is the only one of its kind in the south.

About a dozen of the type, which has an unusual bulging glassfibre front, were made to special order by a small company in the north of England about 20 years ago and few survive today.

Mr Welti has put up hundreds of posters in the hope someone will spot the van, which is white with an orange strip, but may have been repainted.

It was parked at his home in Roffey, Horsham, when the thieves struck on Thursday, May 31.

He said: "I'm determined to get it back. I'm certain there isn't another one of its kind south of London. Other caterers have said they've never seen one like it before.

"I bought it from a friend four years ago. When I told him it had been stolen he was distraught."

Originally an engineer, Mr Welti set himself up in the burger business after he found companies were turning him down because of his age - he's in his 50s.

Mr Welti said: "They all said I was too old, so I thought rather than spend the rest of my life on the dole I'd do something about it and find another way to pay the rent.

"At the moment all I'm thinking about is getting the van back. Next week I'll have to think seriously about the future.

"I've put up posters in every shop, restaurant and burger van as far as Redhill and Reigate. People have been so kind. As soon as they hear what has happened, they want to help as much as they can. They realise how much I've lost.

"By doing this, I also want to send a message to other thieves out there that we won't let them get away with it."

Mr Welti specialises in catering on building sites and was based on a site in Southwater.

He said: "The description and photo of the van have been put on the national police database."

Anyone with information should call Mr Welti on 07790 154789.