NEARLY 200 youngsters have had the start to their school year wrecked by callous criminals.
Huge holes were left in the roof of St Bede’s RC Primary School in Jarrow, after metal thieves ripped thousands of pounds worth of lead flashing from the building’s roof.
The raid happened on Wednesday night. However, the full impact of the theft was only felt yesterday when overnight rain flooded part of the building, making it a no-go area for pupils, and meaning all 180 of them had to be sent home.
The school, which teaches youngsters aged three to 11, in Howard Street, Jarrow, is now bracing itself for a repair bill expected to run into tens of thousands of pounds to fix the damage.
Headteacher Moya Rooney took the decision to close the school yesterday to the disappointment of youngsters – some who were just starting to settle into their new surroundings.
She said: “We noticed the theft on Thursday and we had people out to repair the damage, but they hadn’t realised lead was missing from another part of the roof.
“We didn’t know until we came in on Friday and saw the water damage to the classrooms. A lot of resources, children’s books, displays and a tape deck worth £800, have all been damaged.
“The insurance only covers us for some of it, not everything. It means we will have to dip into school funds to cover the cost.”
Mrs Rooney said the theft has also had an impact on some pupils, who had been anxious about starting school.
She said: “We had no choice but to close, as it was just too dangerous for our pupils to be here.
“For some, starting nursery or moving into the primary school is an anxious time and the teachers have worked hard to help some of them settle in.
“Just as we were settling them in, we have had to send them home.
“As yet we don’t know when we will be back open. However, we will be closed on Monday.”
Staff had planned to celebrate the school’s centenary but this is now on the backburner until the repairs have been done.
South Tyneside Council staff helped with the clean-up and carried out temporary repairs.
It is thought the school could be re-opened by Tuesday.
Two people were arrested in connection with the theft after an off-duty police officer spotted two men walking the streets of Jarrow with a wheelie bin filled with metal.
Coun Joan Atkinson, the council’s lead member for children, young people and families, said: “We are saddened by this incident, which is a real blow to the staff and children at the school.
“The council is working with the diocese to get the school open as soon as possible, so that no more days can be lost on the children’s education.”
Neighbourhood Inspector for Hebburn Ian King said: “Metal theft is not a victimless crime and the damage caused by metal thieves can have a huge impact on a community, as seen in this case.
“As well as the cost of repairing damage, there has also been disruption to the pupils’ education.
“We would encourage people who see anyone acting suspicious in their area, day or night, to contact the police so the appropriate action can be taken.”
Police can be contacted on 101.