A GANG of youths “terrified” four gymnasts during an unprovoked attack at a South Tyneside leisure centre.
One of the victims was pinned down and kneed in the face, while others screamed for help as they were targeted by a group of 15 girls, all aged about 15 years old.
The attack, in a corridor at the Temple Park Centre in John Reid Road, South Shields, came just two hours before the gymnasts, aged between 13 and 17, were due to perform at the Sunderland Empire.
The ordeal, which happened at about 7.10pm on Sunday, ended after a cleaner heard screaming and raised the alarm.
Police are investigating, and said a girl, aged 14, has been arrested on suspicion of assaulting a 15-year-old.
She has been bailed on condition she attends a youth surgery.
The victims are all members of South Shields Gymnastics Club, which is based at the leisure centre. The girls are set to take part in the world championships in Florida in April.
Sue Mattinson, the club’s secretary and welfare officer, said: “All four of them have been left very vulnerable after this – we are all concerned about it.
“It’s shocking that something like this can happen. It was completely unprovoked, and you wouldn’t expect it to happen in a leisure centre.
“I don’t know what could have happened if the cleaner did not turn up.”
Mrs Mattinson said the girls were going to the gym for one final training session ahead of their 9.30pm performance at the Empire.
She added: “One of the girls was held down and kneed in the face. Others suffered scratching and bruising.
“They shouted, and made a lot of noise for someone to come to their assistance.”
Despite being left shaken, the girls went ahead with their Sunderland performance.
Mrs Mattinson added: “These girls are dedicated gymnasts. and are performing at a very high standard.
“They don’t deserve to be attacked in this way.”
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council, which manages the centre, said: “We take incidents of this type very seriously, and have a zero-tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour in any of our buildings.
“The safety and wellbeing of those using our facilities is of paramount importance, and as soon as staff became aware of this incident, they immediately intervened and are assisting the police with their enquiries.”