A GANG of children as young as 11 has been caught on CCTV causing damage totalling thousands of pounds during an hour-long wrecking spree at a football ground.
The incident came as police announced a special campaign to crack down on offending among primary school children to combat a rise in reports of antisocial behaviour.
With current legislation aimed at those aged over 12, officers will directly target under-12s at risk of moving on to more serious offending.
The gang of vandals destroyed Musselburgh Athletic’s toilet block, leaving the club facing a £10,000 bill.
Manager David McGlynn, 35, who discovered the damage, said a group of eight had used bricks, boulders and a pole to smash urinals, sinks, heaters, toilet partitions and walls at the Olivebank ground, in what was the second vandalism attack on the toilets in a year.
The attack meant fans attending Saturday’s Super League game against Bo’ness United – the last home fixture of the season – had to share the limited facilities in the hospitality suite.
Mr McGlynn said: “I came to the park and noticed the damage. It was terrible, absolutely shocking.
“It’s very difficult for the club to fork out for things like this, especially with the economic climate the way it is.”
He said the attack was caught on CCTV and that club officials believe they know who the culprits are.
It is believed that the gang of eight was made up of children aged between 11 and 14.
The footage has been handed over to police who are investigating the incident.
Mr McGlynn added: “It’s mindless kids. It’s evil and nastiness, they’ve done it out of pure badness.
“They were there for an hour in broad daylight running around the park. They’re still wandering around the streets, causing damage and hassle. The quicker they get caught the better.”
Mr McGlynn said the footage showed the yobs at the ground between 6pm and 7pm on March 28.
Police are also investigating the theft of a large wheelie bin from the club which took place last Monday. A man was pictured on CCTV wheeling the bin away.
The toilet block was also vandalised last year, leading to the installation of the CCTV.
The new police campaign comes in response to a rise in antisocial behaviour reported in the East Lothian area, including Prestonpans, Port Seton and Longniddry.
Officers will educate at-risk children and offer diversionary activities to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.
Hamish MacLean, of Lothian and Borders Police, said that children who committed antisocial behaviour often become involved in more serious offences in later life.
Councillor John Caldwell, who represents the Musselburgh East and Carberry ward on East Lothian Council, said: “I wouldn’t say it’s out of control, but it is a problem and it needs to be controlled. I back the police initiative, but I would appeal to the parents to support them [police] in trying to stamp out this crime. Local groups are struggling and can ill afford to replace things that are damaged.
“I think the parents should be aware of where their children are at all times when they’re that age.”
One former senior police officer, who asked not to be named, said: “It is a problem because older people don’t want their peace disturbed and things get damaged, but this is nothing new.
“The lighter nights and the school holidays mean that young people are out and about. If they have no direction and are not under parental control they get into mischief.
“The police have been very good in recent years in directing young people towards positive outcomes. The last thing you want is to stigmatise and criminalise young people.
“You’ve got to give them something to do.”
Lothian and Borders Police have appealed for witnesses to the vandalism at Olivebank.
A spokesman said: “The incident happened sometime between 6.15pm on Wednesday, March 28 and 7.15pm on Thursday, March 29.
“Anyone who can assist officers is asked to come forward.”
Anyone with information can contact police on 0131-311 3131 or 0800-555 111.
OFFICERS IDENTIFY DIVERSIONARY ACTIVITIES
Lothian and Borders Police’s new campaign will identify children aged under 12 involved in antisocial behaviour and try to get them involved in sports and music activities to keep them out of trouble.
Working in the East Lothian area alongside the Youth Justice Service and East Lothian Council, officers will engage with the children and their families to address any issues that may be responsible for antisocial behaviour and work to provide “an appropriate diversionary activity”.
Community beat officers will visit schools and community groups in Prestonpans, Port Seton and Longniddry to discuss the issue and enrol vulnerable children in positive and constructive programmes.
Sergeant Hamish MacLean said: “Antisocial behaviour often leads to more serious crimes and it is essential that we reach the younger members of our communities as early as possible to ensure they do not fall into a detrimental lifestyle.”
The campaign will launch on April 18 and follows a rise in reports relating to younger offenders.