METAL thieves are thought to have caused a derelict Burnley shop to collapse.

Letting agents for the disused shop in Hollingreave Road said they believed that crooks trying to pull the metal shutters off made the building to come down early yesterday.

Residents said they had earlier complained to Burnley Council about the state of the building and their fears for its structural safety as children had been forcing their way in and playing inside.

And a councillor said she had been trying ‘for a long time’ to get the place either improved or demolished.

People living nearby were woken up when the building came crashing down shortly after midnight.

The clean-up operation was underway yesterday, with a skip on site clearing up the rubble and building control officers from Burnley Council checking the state of the building. The shop has been empty for around five years.

Trisha Ellison, who lives opposite, said: “I heard a rumbling noise for a few seconds but I actually though it was a lorry trying to get up the hill. “I have phoned the council a few times to try and get something done about it, it has been a mess for far too long.

"Children would play inside and go in to smoke. It could have been a lot worse had it come down in the middle of the day.”

Another neighbour Stephen Johnson said: “A lot of people have complained about the state of the building.”

Coun Karen Heseltine, who lives on nearby Dall Street, said councillors and residents had fought a long battle to try and get something done.

“I heard the rumbling noise, like a very large wagon carrying a skip was going past,” she said. “That building has long been a nightmare. “It is time for something to be done, either spend some money on the building or knock it down, it has been a derelict eyesore for too long.

“We don’t want it boarded up for too long because the kids will try and get in and there could end up being an accident.”

A Burnley Council spokesman said: “A building control officer was called out while the incident was being dealt with and again later in the morning.

We’ll be contacting the owner of the property so they can make it secure.” A spokesman for letting agents Aspire, in Lyndhurst Road, Burnley, said they believed thieves had been trying to steal the metal shutters and that sparked the collapse.

The spokesman said: “We have somebody on site now and are trying to clear it up. We will now be looking at what has happened and what can be done to repair the building.”

The collapse comes just weeks after council officers in Burnley brought legal action against the owners of an empty second-hand shop at the corner of Briercliffe Road and Ford Street, in Duke Bar, for failing to carry out remedial work to make the building safe.

But a council spokesman said that was the only such legal action brought in the past year. The spokesman said: “Bringing prosecutions is a very rare occurrence. "We work the owners of any problem building and expect them to carry out any work required. If they don’t then we will proceed to legal action.”