Mourne walkers' rucksacks stolen during New Year's Eve hike
Hikers are being urged to be vigilant after an opportunist thief stole seven rucksacks from a Co Down walking group.
The bags, which were hidden in secluded woodland by the Northern Ireland Young Walkers, were snatched as club members ascended Slieve Commedagh at around 3.30pm to see the sun set on New Year's Eve.
On their return at 4.45pm the bags containing specialist food, clothing and equipment, some of it worth up to £800, had gone.
Club official Alex Rose had been leading the group of 16 that day.
He said: "We had planned to camp for the night and did not want to carry the heaviest bags so we hid the gear in the woods well away from view and took our life packs.
"We left nine bags in the location and when we came back there were only two left.
"It is very common for walkers to leave stuff hidden, go walking, then return and collect it.
"To steal people's stuff is a pretty nasty thing to do. It wasn't a nice end to the year."
The theft forced half of the group to return home, but then one of the hikers had a stroke of luck when he returned to the scene that night.
"One of the group went back to where we had left our things and he managed to find some of the bags," said Mr Rose.
"They had been taken about 100 yards away, behind a wall, and dumped in a ditch.
"The thief had gone through them and removed some items.
"I think it was an opportunist, as whoever did it had tipped out the water bottles to lighten the bags, and they were well hidden, as if he had been disturbed and was planning to come back for them. Plus, it can't have been a walking enthusiast, as the most expensive bag had not been taken, so they can't have known what they were looking at."
One bag has not yet been found.
The PSNI said: "Police are investigating the theft of a number of rucksacks and equipment in Newcastle on Sunday, December 31. It was reported that a walking group had left seven rucksacks and other camping equipment in a wooded area opposite the Ice House in Donard Park on Sunday afternoon while they were walking in the area.
"Upon their return a number of hours later they discovered the equipment missing.
"Six of the rucksacks have since been recovered in the area; however some equipment has been removed from them. One rucksack is still missing."
Police are appealing for anyone who witnessed the incident or anyone who is offered camping equipment in suspicious circumstances to contact officers in Downpatrick on 101 quoting reference 902 of 31/12/17, or ring the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.