A gang of drunk schoolboys destroyed a model railway exhibition after breaking into a school sports hall to play football in the middle of the night.
The youths caused £30,000 worth of damage and smashed up handbuilt locomotives and displays including one which took 36 years to build, leaving Market Deeping Model Railway Club organisers in tears.
Four youths aged either 15 or 16 were arrested after rampaging through the sports hall at Stamford Welland Academy during the early hours of Saturday, May 18.
Three youths, all now aged 16, pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal damage during a hearing at Lincoln Youth Court on Monday, August 19.
Two of the youths were given a 12 month referral order. They were ordered to pay £500 compensation each to Market Deeping Model Railway Club plus £85 prosecution costs and a £20 victim surcharge.
The financial penalties were ordered to be paid by their parents as neither boy has any income. The sentence on the third youth was adjourned to September 2 for consideration of compensation.
A fourth youth, also 16, will appear in court later today.
The chair of the bench John Lock, passing sentence, said the compensation was a gesture and told them: “The hurt can never be compensated for.”
He added “In more than 20 years on the bench I cannot recall a case such as this of mindless, wanton destruction. It beggars belief.
“In the dead of night when people are in their beds in the main you were out playing football. You came across the displays and models. It is quite extraordinary. Not just content with kicking the ball into them you then went on the rampage.”
Mr Lock said the bench only had the power to impose either a referral order or custody.
He said the boys had no previous convictions and added: “It wouldn’t be right to send you to custody. You all have good futures. It is right that you make the best use of them.”
Shelley Wilson, prosecuting, said the four teenagers, none of whom had any previous court convictions, kicked the doors open to the sports hall at the Stamford Welland Academy in the early hours of the morning.
They went on to completely trash the displays set out for Market Deeping Model Railway Club’s annual exhibition which was due to open just a few hours later.
Ms Wilson said that an intruder alarm went off at 4 am resulting in the school caretaker and police being called out.
Officers who initially arrived at the scene found the sports hall lights on and saw people inside so a police dog team was called out before officers went inside and discovered a scene of devastation.
The displays were smashed many totally beyond repair.
The event, which 400 people were expected to attend, was called off and exhibitors who arrived at 7.30 to put the finishing touches to their displays were reduced to tears at seeing years of hard work and effort destroyed.
Organisers said five complete train track layouts which each run up to 30 metres were damaged – forcing the annual event to be cancelled for the first time in more than 30 years.
A layout for youngsters could not be saved and the club is now rebuilding and promoting youth events.
John Kneesworth, of the St Neots Model Railway Club who had a display at the event, said in a victim impact statement that one of his organisation’s displays took nearly 10 years to build and his own collection of locomotives and wagons was smashed.
“It is absolutely impossible to quantify the damage. I spent 20 to 25 years building up my collection. It was all made by me and unique. I’m truly shocked at what happened. This was years of work and effort. I cannot understand why anyone would do this. It is devastating.”
William Sowerby of the Market Deeping club said: “Not one display was still standing. Everything was destroyed. Smashed and thrown across the room. I could not believe what I had seen. One of the displays took 36 years to build.”
The boys, who were having a night out before taking their GCSEs, all apologised in court.
They went into the school hall to play football and were planning to sleep there as three of them found themselves accidentally locked out from the house where they were due to stay the night.
Nigel Edwards QC, for one of the boys, said: “All of these boys were in the build-up for their exams. They were going to have a night out playing football.
“There was a bottle of vodka kicking around. They all had a tipple and things unfolded from there.”
Linford Fuller, for another boy, said: “The parties were in drink and I think that explains why they weren’t thinking properly in addressing in their minds what was going on. Had they been sober then different choices would have been made.”
Following the vandalism, well-wishers raised more than £100,000 through crowdfunding for the club – including a donation from rockstar Rod Stewart.
The model train enthusiast, who has his own 100ft model railway at his Beverley Hills home, handed over £10,000 and called on celeb pals Jools Holland and Roger Daltrey to do the same.
The musician, 74, said: “I was absolutely devastated to hear that vandals had destroyed what was to be a lovely show by the Market Deeping Model Railway Club over the weekend.
“The collection was priceless and I am donating £10,000 to help compensate those affected and asking fellow enthusiasts Jools Holland, Roger Daltrey and others to do the same.
“It took me 23 years to build my model railway so I feel their pain.”
Following the vandalism committee chairman Peter Davies said: “The youngsters were attacking with hammers. They were playing football with model locomotives. We even found a box containing wagons and carriages thrown up in a basketball ring.
“One hammer had been used so hard the handle was broken and the head flew off.
“The devastation was total. It was mindless vandalism.
“Everyone is devastated.”