Arsonists killed almost 300 racing pigeons and caused £50,000 damage in an attack at a South Tyneside allotment.
Yobs set fire to the pigeon loft belonging to Robert Jewitt at Holder House Allotments, Whiteleas, South Shields, in the early hours of yesterday.
The blaze, reported at 2.45am, killed 250 of the 64-year-old’s birds, with only 30 escaping, before spreading to the next door loft belonging to Steven Giles, 43, and his dad. They lost 36 birds.
The lofts were completely destroyed in the attack and police are treating the incident as arson.
The men, who are members of the Whiteleas Homing Society, are offering a £5,000 reward for information from anyone which can lead to the conviction of the culprits.
Mr Jewitt, a lorry driver who has been based at the allotments for more than 40 years, said: “I can’t believe it. I just don’t know how anyone could do this.
What a horrific death, it’s so cruel.Steven Giles
“To set fire to something knowing that these birds, living creatures, were inside is just barbaric.”
“I’ve lost birds worth £25,000 and it would probably cost another £15,000 to rebuild my lofts again. We’re not insured because insurers won’t touch us round here.
“It’s basically my life’s work just gone up in smoke. All I have left is 30 birds, everything else, the clocks you name it, are gone.
“I’d only just bought a load of new birds, some of them were £900 each. This was for the start of the next season and I’ve lost it all.”
Mr Giles, a contractor from Whiteleas, had young birds in the fire that had been bred from a winning pigeon and were worth £3,000.
He said: “There was a number of birds who are the offspring of my winner, the fastest in the region in 2010.
“Most of them were about two or three years old, so we were looking forward to the next season.
“When I came in they were all huddled together in a pile. They must have been terrified. What a horrific death, it’s so cruel.
“All my dad’s pigeons have been killed but I have 22 pairs of stock birds left as the fire never spread that far.”
A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: “At 2.45am on Tuesday we were contacted by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue with reports of a fire at Holder House Allotments.
“We attended the scene and found two pigeon lofts containing about 200 birds had been destroyed in the blaze.
“Officers carried out inquiries and we are now treating the incident as arson.
“We are keen to speak to anyone who may have seen two men in the area – it’s thought they were dressed in dark clothing and on bikes.”
Any witnesses should contact Northumbria Police on 101 ext 69191 quoting reference 76 081215 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
“We would urge anyone with information to get in contact.”
Anyone who has information about the fire is asked to call police on 101 quoting reference number ‘159081215’.