A GANG smashed their way into five children’s nurseries to steal thousands of pounds in cash and laptop computers.
Shocked staff arrived at work yesterday to find offices and classrooms broken into at the nurseries in Blackburn and Rishton.
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Nursery teachers said youngsters were ‘visibly upset’ at the sight of smashed glass and police vans. Police said it was thought the same gang carried out all five raids.
Westholme Nursery and Infant School, Oscar Bears Nursery, Willow Tree Day Nursery, and The Riverside Nursery, all in Blackburn, and First Class Day Nursery, in Rishton, were targeted, officers said.
Kerry Martin, manager at Oscar Bears Nursery, in Pleasington Street, said £80 raised by her toddlers for the Barnardo's children’s charity was amongst the money stolen.
She said: “It’s just horrible. The police said they have got CCTV from one of the other nurseries, but ours didn’t catch them.
“The children are really upset, it’s terrible. There was a spate last year where we were targeted four times.
“The kids come here to learn and to feel safe and to have smashed glass everywhere and police vans in the morning is hard for them.
“We did the Barnardo's Big Toddle sponsored walk and we are just devastated that the hard work was all for nothing. It happened with the money we collected for Red Nose Day last year too.”
A three-figure sum of cash was also stolen from a locked drawer in the nursery’s office, along with a laptop computer after burglars smashed their way through the front door.
Zeenat Lulat, manager of Willow Tree Day Nursery, said a four-figure sum of cash was taken from the safe of her office in Adelaide House, Dukes Brow.
She added: “Obviously we are upset and sad. The children struggled to come in because the glass of the door had been smashed.
“We’re working with the police and we’re just glad nothing else was taken.”
Sgt Andy Horne, crime and tasking co-ordinator for Lancashire police’s East division, said up to 20 officers were working on the case.
He said: “Potentially they are the same gang but we can’t rule anything out at this stage. They are all very low-tech, forced entry burglaries and searches have targeted office areas.
“At Westholme they targeted the staff room and there wasn’t anything taken. At Willow Tree they’ve taken the safe and we’ve had crime scene investigators down there.
“First Class is the only one that we have a more precise time for. A window was smashed in at 10.55pm on Sunday.
“At Oscar Bears there were cash charity tins taken and a laptop. There’s not a huge distance between all the nurseries and it’s likely whoever did this had access to a vehicle.
“This is a top priority for us. It’s not high-impact in the sense that there was no-one present when they happened, but stuff like this, especially when it affects and frightens kids, does undermine community confidence.
“We’ve had our neighbourhood teams down to the nurseries to reassure people and I know most of them have spoken to the kids to explain what’s happened.
“Figures for crimes like this have been lower this summer than last year but clearly for four or five to happen overnight, that’s an aberration.
“Normally this would remain with investigating officers but because we are taking it so seriously we’ve got about 20 people across various teams involved.”
Sgt Horne said police were studying CCTV and had identified some possible lines of enquiry.
Vivienne Davenport, commercial director at Westholme School, said: “We are very fortunate in that our alarm worked and scared them off.
“They actually broke into the staff room and not the main office so there wouldn’t have been much there. They didn’t take anything and we are up-and-running as normal.”
Anyone with information about any of the break-ins is asked to contact Lancashire police on 101.