A RESTAURANT owner who was the victim of a near £500 theft by a group of diners who abused him and staff before fleeing without paying, has launched a fundraising drive for two Weymouth causes to thank the community for their support.

Eric Tavernier, owner of Les Enfants Terribles on Custom House Quay, told how the group of 12 dined on a lavish feast of seafood, before turning aggressive and allegedly attempting to fight him and staff, before fleeing without paying - leaving him footing a £468 bill.

Police were called to the restaurant - which was visited by football legend David Beckham during a trip to Weymouth last year - as things turned aggressive, with Mr Tavernier revealing he had struggled to sleep following the incident, fearing the group may come back to damage his business.

However, since then Mr Tavernier has received countless messages of support from customers and locals. He even received a donation of seafood from two Weymouth fishermen.

All of this has touched Mr Tavernier so much that he has decided to pay the kindness forwards, setting up a fundraiser for two local causes.

He said: “We want to give back due to overwhelming support from our lovely community and beyond when some thieves ran off from our restaurant without paying the bill.

“We had offers of support from all over the country and worldwide, so we thought that we will turn something bad into something positive.

“The two charities we have chosen are RNLI, which operates a voluntary rescue service from right in front of us, and Weymouth Carnival, which has been going for very many years and need funds for summer 2021.

“The lifeboat station is situated right in front of us and we know how hard the volunteers work, pretty much day and night, especially during the busy summer season but also during the winter when the weather can sometimes be quite extreme. They are such a worthy cause. Weymouth Carnival has now been postponed for a couple of years and I know they were looking for some funding in order to try to get it going next year. We would love to see the Carnival return so this is why we are supporting it.

“I would really like for anyone who can afford it to donate £5 to support our two chosen local charities. Supporting locals charities has now become our mission.”

Mr Tavernier’s initial goal was to raise £469, representing the unpaid bill of £468.12 that kicked off the chain of events, but his fundraiser had already smashed that target within two days.

All donations to the JustGiving page will be split between the RNLI and Weymouth Carnival. To donate please visit the fundraiser at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/eric-tavernier