A scene of devastation was left at a community post office after thieves ploughed through its walls with a hay baler.

The huge piece of farm machinery was driven at the tiny post office on the A29 at Coldwaltham, near Pulborough, tearing though the walls which collapsed leaving the roof hanging.

The thieves fled empty handed during the ram-raid which happened at 11pm on Sunday.

The partial demolition of the post office, which is attached to the village hall, has left the close-knit community shocked and without one of its vital services.

Pauline Streeter, MBE, the postmistress who has worked at the tiny office in the village for 15 years, said: "It's devastating. It was the focus of the community."

Mrs Streeter said the post office will remain closed until possibly after Christmas. Insurance assessors will be looking at the building which housed the post office which may have to be torn down if it is deemed unsafe.

Mrs Streeter said: "People, many of them pensioners, now have to go three or four miles away. This was the centre point of the village even though we only operate three mornings a week. It's unbelievable. I only took over as postmistress a year ago last November. I don't know if we will be operating again this side of Christmas."

Mrs Streeter said she has received messages of support from the community and parish councillors who are keen to find another venue to operate from, although the Post Office would have to agree to a secure venue being found.

The tractor used in the ram-raid had been stolen earlier in the day from Houghton, near Arundel. Detective Constable Sean Preston said: "We need information on the ram-raid and the movements of the tractor during the day and late evening of Sunday.

"Motorists may have seen the tractor being driven to Coldwaltham.

"At this stage we don't have accurate descriptions of the offenders but anyone who thinks they may have seen something suspicious or has subsequently heard about either the theft of the tractor or the ram-raid is urged to contact the police as soon as possible."

The raid on the post office was the latest in a spate of thefts from cashpoints in the South using heavy machinery, although police said there was nothing to link this latest incident.

In September, ram-raiders demolished the front of a bank with a digger and stole up to £30,000 of cash from a machine.

The gang ripped the machine from the wall of the HSBC Bank in Steyning High Street and smashed it open before dumping the digger in a dawn raid.

Bank managers are still offering £15,000 to catch the thieves who were responsible for the Steyning raid.

Anyone with information about the Coldwaltham post office ram-raid should contact DC Preston at Horsham CID on 0845 6070 999.