Much-loved children's play equipment at a South Tyneside village park has been set alight and destroyed - the third vandalism incident in the play area over recent months.
The play area at Cornthwaite Park in Whitburn was only cleaned three weeks ago after being daubed with graffiti. In September, the park had been repainted following vandalism during the summer.
Now significant damage has been caused to the children's climbing frame and slide. It is believed the equipment was targeted last Thursday night (18 November), with the destruction discovered by Council staff the following morning.
Councillor Tracey Dixon, Leader of South Tyneside Council and Whitburn ward councillor, said: "We are absolutely devastated to see the park in this state. It's heart-breaking to see. It is particularly disappointing that the children's play area has been targeted for a third time in a matter of months.
"The Council works hard to make our parks enjoyable and safe place for our children to play. This mindless destruction prevents the park from being used by the community. It's appalling that there is a small minority of people who are intent on spoiling this facility, which is well-used and enjoyed by local families and children."
The Council temporarily closed the play park to remove the damaged section of equipment and flooring, and to make the area safe. Arrangements are being made for the equipment to be replaced at the earliest opportunity.
Councillor Ernest Gibson, Lead Member for Area Management and Community Safety, said: "It beggars belief that people can damage a children's play area in this way. Not only is this a serious criminal act, but fire also puts lives at risk and can have serious consequences for those in the area if the fire was to get out of hand.
"We condemn this behaviour. As this isn't the first time the play area has been targeted, we would appeal for people to report any suspicious activity in the area and encourage anyone with information about this incident to get in touch with the police."
Inspector Denise Easdon, of Northumbria Police, said: "This type of criminality will not be tolerated, and an investigation is ongoing to identify those responsible.
"This play equipment is there for the enjoyment of our communities - so for somebody to deliberately damage it in this way is absolutely appalling.
"We will continue to work with the council as part of our investigation and anyone found to have been involved can expect to be dealt with swiftly and appropriately."
Anyone with information is asked to contact police via the 'Tell Us Something' page of the Northumbria Police website or by calling 101 quoting crime number 129351A/21.