THIEVES swiped a near-full poppy appeal charity tin from the counter of a South Harrow shop, the day after Remembrance Sunday.
It is believed a heartless trio stole the red collection box from A To Z Superstore in Alexandra Avenue, South Harrow, at lunchtime on Monday and bought fast food with the loose change at a nearby restaurant.
Store manager Mukesh Patel, 32, said he was 'shocked' at the actions of the three, who are all thought to be eastern European.
He recalled: "Two people walked in and then another person walked in. The male and female went to the wine section and they wanted to know which bottle to get, and the other lady was standing by the counter.
"I had a funny suspicion about them all but I didn't know what it was, so I tried to keep an eye on both of them.
"The other lady then walked away and I didn't notice anything different. The couple said 'We'll forget it' and quickly left as well.
"A few minutes later a customer came in and wanted to buy a poppy and I noticed the donation box had gone.
"I have had the box since day one, for three or four weeks, I'd say, and there was quite a bit of cash in there. Most of the customers were putting 50p or £1 in."I was in a bad mood and a colleague came in, saying he had been in KFC and there had been three people paying with a large amount of coins.
"I phoned KFC and they said it was true."
Mr Patel said: "I'm a bit shocked. Why would people do something like that?
"It wasn't theirs to take. That money was not for me to keep, it was for soldiers.
"I think the three knew what they were doing because the couple went straight to the wine section when they came in, to distract me."
Mr Patel said he has displayed a poppy appeal collection box by the till each autumn for the past few years.
"Normally I put it away on Saturday morning before Remembrance Sunday and only bring it out when the Royal British Legion come to collect it. In fact, they were meant to collect it any time this week."
The police were due to meet Mr Patel yesterday morning (Wednesday) to view CCTV footage from the shop in a bid to track down the culprits.