Preschool burglars leave trail of destruction

22:31, Feb 07 2013
DAMAGED FUN: (L-R) Kathy Swords and Angela King with Ms Swords' nephew Gabriel (16 months), daughter Jasmine (5) and Angela's son Alex (4).

Alex King knows there have been intruders at his play group after hours.

''A lot of baddies have been here. They left bad stuff,'' the four-year-old says.

His Mangere Bridge play group operates out of the Plunket building on Taylor Rd and has been hit hard by burglars over the past six weeks.

Half of the its outdoor toys, including bikes, hula hoops and moon hoppers, have been stolen. Windows have been torn off the Wendy house, holes have been burnt in the canopies over the playground and graffiti scrawled on the walls.

But even more worrying for the playgroup parents are the items the thieves have left behind.

The parents have begun doing daily sweeps of the premises and have found used condoms, cigarette butts, beer bottles and even a drug pipe in the playground.

''It's a little bit of a biological hazard - at this age kids put everything in their mouths,'' branch secretary Angela King said.

''What if we missed something like a drug bag and the kids found it?''

The burglaries and vandalism have the parents worried for their wallets as well as their kids' safety.

The playgroup has insurance but a very high excess so ''some fundraising will have to happen'', King said.

The fence that surrounds the grounds will need to be replaced to beef up security -  a job that could cost about $20,000.

The playground canopies have been weakened by thieves crawling on top of them and will also need to be replaced because they pose a danger to the kids.

Kathy Swords said the canopies were originally purchased with community grants funding.

''The thieves are effectively stealing from their own community.''

King said the situation was hugely stressful, not just for the 39 families who belong to the playgroup but for the Plunket nurse and toy library staff who also use the premises.

''We're all volunteers and this is turning into a fulltime job - cleaning up, calling the police three or four times a week and dealing with insurance,'' she said.

Staff have seen four youths - three boys and one girl - lurking around the premises and are urging parents to keep an eye on their teenagers at night.

If King could talk to the thieves she'd ask them to find something else to do with their time instead of putting kids in danger.

''I know what it's like - I was a naughty teenager too - but don't destroy other people's property.

''This place is for kids in their community - this is for their little brothers and sisters and their cousins.''

Anyone with information can call Counties Manukau police on 09 261 1300 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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