Callous thieves who stole valuable parts from a cancer charity’s minibus put at risk the health of already vulnerable youngsters.

“Unbelievable” was the reaction of Youth Cancer Trust volunteers to the vandalism of one of their clearly branded minibuses.

The £2,500 catalytic converter and 12ft of exhaust pipe was removed from the eight-seater bus, which is used to take youngsters on outings from the Alum Chine holiday home and for fundraising purposes.

But it was not until eight cancer sufferers were taken ill, on a trip to Salisbury to have some go-karting fun, that it came to light.

“On the way there the young people were complaining of a fishy smell and of feeling sick,” said Georgie Hillman, Youth Cancer support worker. “They got back – some of them are very vulnerable healthwise – and when they got out one vomited immediately.”

It was not until an RAC patrol man examined the vehicle that they realised what had caused the problem.

“Someone had sawn off the catalytic converter and the exhaust and stolen it,” she said.

That had caused exhaust fumes to pour through the air-conditioning system of the year-old VW bus, poisoning them.

“I can’t believe someone would have the audacity to do that to a cancer charity,” said Georgie. “It is putting young people’s health at more risk when they are already vulnerable.

“It’s dreadful.” Founder Brenda Clark said: “It ruined their holidays.

“One girl was still being sick on Friday when she went home. It has knocked their confidence.”

The minibus parked outside Tracy-Ann House must have been targeted at night for the value of its catalytic converter, which contains precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium.

“It’s the pits,” said support worker Peter Guest. “That £2,500 is about what it costs to have eight young people to stay here for a week.”

As a result of the theft the charity will have to pay the £400 insurance excess and is likely to face a hike in its premium. But while the smaller minibus provided by the Bournemouth Mayor’s charity appeal and Qualcomm is still out of action while they wait for it to be repaired, they can use their larger minibus supplied by LV=.

• See for more information about the charity.