MOURNERS turned out in force to say a fond farewell to Blackheath's donkey man Len Thorne, including some of his oldest animals.

Len Thorne, who had given donkey rides on the heath for six decades, passed away in July at the age of 78.

Around 180 people turned up to the funeral on October 1, which began with a service at Mr Thorne's old donkey pitch, including a horse-drawn hearse driven by daughter Maria Chapman.

Former 'donkey lads' who worked with Mr Thorne acted as pall-bearers, carrying a casket which bore pictures of the man's life.

And the funeral was also joined by his two oldest donkeys - Apache, 20, and 19-year-old Bimbo, whose long hair led to her unusual name.

After readings from daughter Lorayne Ahmet and childhood friend Frank Waterman, a procession made its way to Charlton Cemetery where Mr Thorne was laid to rest.

Ms Ahmet , 50, said: "Everyone was commenting on how dad was going to be missed.

"Someone referred to him as being one of Greenwich's national treasures, a totally unique character."

She explained: "Dad didn't want flowers. He always just wanted to make sure his horses were looked after."

Unfortunately, despite years of happy days on the heath, Ms Ahmet says her father died a "penniless man", forced from his pitch because of the Olympics and left without a place to hold the rides.

She has now set up the Blackheath Donkeys Memorial Fund. Donated money will go towards putting a permanent memorial on the heath, with any leftover cash spent on safeguarding the donkeys' future.

Despite the Olympics leaving town, the removal of a railing during the Games means the animals currently can't return to the old site.

Ms Ahmet said: "At the moment I'm funding them, but we're desperately trying to get them back on the heath.

"I'm hoping Greenwich Council will allow us to use the donkeys as some form of education for children. That would be a legacy for dad - he always wanted children to ride."

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