Investigation launched after five social clubs across Norfolk and Suffolk are targeted by raiders

Mindless vandalism: Stanton Village Hall Committee Chairman Jim Thorndyke surveys the damage after v

Mindless vandalism: Stanton Village Hall Committee Chairman Jim Thorndyke surveys the damage after vandalism in the early hours of Saturday morning. - Credit: Archant

A gang of masked raiders wielding axes and sledgehammers have now targeted social clubs in five communities in our region, police have confirmed.

A major investigation has been launched in Norfolk and Suffolk after damage was caused to Great Ellingham Village Hall, near Attleborough; East Harling Sports and Social Club, near Thetford; Shotford Bowls Club, in Harleston; Stanton Community Village Hall, near Diss and Mendlesham Community Centre, near Eye.

A similar burglary also took place at Jubilee Village Hall in Carleton Rode, near Attleborough, and police have said they are keeping an open mind as to whether it is connected.

The gang appear to be targeting tills, fruit machines and pool tables and have left a trail of destruction and thousands of pounds worth of damage behind.

During the raid at Great Ellingham Village Hall the intruders were disturbed, and Richard Ewing, chairman of the recreation committee at the hall, believes this helped to keep the damage to a minimum.

He said: 'Two people were driving past and saw the gates and doors open. It was late at night and they thought it was a bit strange. We have at least £600 of damage but because they were disturbed it has saved a lot of damage.'

A social club, two golf clubs and a pub in the Sudbury area have also been broken into. Cash and garden machinery were stolen and gaming machines smashed.

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Detective Inspector Andrew Smethurst, of Bury St Edmunds CID, said he is not ruling out any leads and he will be reviewing the Sudbury incidents to explore potential links.

He said: 'My hope is that they won't target any more clubs. We have got extra resources out prioritising their time around social clubs and village halls. We are targeting the areas that are most at risk.'

He urged rural communities to be vigilant and report any suspicious activities to the police immediately.

'I would much rather know about something and find out it is nothing than risk missing a crime – there is no need to worry about wasting our time.'

Four fire doors were broken and a television was destroyed at Stanton Community Village Hall.

Jim Thorndyke, chairman of the village hall committee, said the destruction caused by the gang was 'pointless'.

He said: 'I am upset. They smashed up a television with an axe. They have smashed up a few doors. I reckon we will have a bill coming fro £4,000 for their efforts. It is absolutely pointless.'

Slim Wilikinson, who was the secretary of the Norfolk Association of Village Halls before it merged with the Norfolk Rural Community Council, said social clubs are valuable but vulnerable.

'A lot of village halls are away from houses so they are isolated,' he said. 'There are quite a few places where there is nothing left in a village. The pub has closed so the village hall becomes the place where people socialise. Some village halls are used a lot by older people and some are used by youth clubs. It really does effect all generations.'

Anyone with information is asked to call Norfolk or Sufolk police on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.