Hotel Chocolat 'in mourning' after van found burnt out
Hotel Chocolat's missing Chocmobile van has been found burnt out, 10 days after it was reported stolen.
The vehicle was found on the outskirts of Bedford, about 30 miles from where it was taken from the firm's headquarters in Royston, Hertfordshire.
The chocolatier used the distinctive looking van at events and had appealed to the public for help finding it.
Founder Angus Thirlwell said he was in "mourning" and planned to go and see the ruined van for "emotional closure".
"It was a thing of beauty. Its only job in life was dispensing chocolatey happiness," he told the BBC.
CCTV had shown three men breaking into a locked car park at the firm's head office on 30 July, smashing the van's window, loading it onto a flatbed truck and driving it away.
Mr Thirlwell said the van's security tracker, embedded in the door panels, had been ripped out by the thieves. He said the van being found burnt out had destroyed his "slightly romantic ideal" that it had been stolen by "a desperate chocolate obsessed person".
The distinctive looking van had been used by the chocolate chain for a year, to sell ice cream, hot chocolate and chocolates at outdoor events including the Goodwood and Ascot horse racing festivals as well as the Henley Royal rowing regatta and private weddings.
Mr Thirlwell said it had cost the chain £100,000 to produce because it was equipped with several pieces of specialist equipment, as well as a unique Caribbean-inspired chime, to reflect the firm's cocoa plantation in the South West of St Lucia.
"A small group of us worked intensively on creating it and designing every aspect of it. At every level we poured love into it and to have it end like this is like a bereavement," he said.
The firm had originally said that information leading to the recovery of the Chocmobile would be rewarded with a visit to factory and a five-year subscription to its chocolate mail order service.
Mr Thirlwell said it now planned to give the Bedfordshire police force a year's subscription to the service "as a gesture".
"They definitely solved the case," he said.
Mr Thirlwell's father helped build the Mr Whippy ice-cream brand, and he said Whitby Morrison, which builds most of the ice-cream vans globally, had offered to loan them a temporary vehicle to use as a Chocmobile.
"It's a lovely example of businesses looking after each other," Mr Thirlwell said.
He said the firm was now working on building a new Chocmobile 2.
Hertfordshire Police, which is carrying out the investigation into the theft, said there had not been any arrests so far.
It said: "Our investigation looking into this incident is still ongoing and we want to encourage people who may have any information to dial 101, quoting 41/69223/19."