Christmas has been saved for families who saw nearly £30,000 of savings disappear when their pub landlord suddenly vanished.

People have flocked to donate money to help around 60 families who were facing a bleak Christmas when the money they had put aside went missing from the Royal Oak pub in Shrewton, Wiltshire.

It took just four days to replace the missing £29,000 and included one anonymous donation of £10,000 and hundreds of smaller contributions from as far afield as South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Australia and the United States.

Police are hunting publican Malcolm Levesconte, 59, in connection with the theft of the thrift club cash and believe he may now be dead.

Villagers said the money would be distributed to the affected families before Christmas.

"This has been truly humbling," said Carole Slater, chairman of Shrewton Parish Council.

"The generosity of strangers at Christmas has been remarkable. People who don't know us, people who have never been to our village, logged on to and sent money.

"It brings a tear to my eye."

Police believe Mr Levesconte was heading for France having boarded a ferry at Portsmouth on the night of December 9.

But detectives now believe he did not get off the ferry in St Malo and yesterday said they were considering the possibility that he jumped off the vessel after it left the UK.