Thieves who snatched bikes used by autistic children and adults have been branded “heartless” as a charity counts the cost of the loss.
Eleven cycles used by the North East Autism Society were taken from a lock-up at Silksworth Ski Centre, where it uses its track for therapy and fitness sessions every weekday afternoon.
The project was set up 12 years ago and has run without incident, until the founder of the sessions, Ian Patterson, arrived to set up the course and discovered the aftermath of the burglary.
The charity say the six mountain bikes, four go-kart style cycles and a distinctive side-by-side bike, will cost about £3,000 to replace, with another bill for £600 to cover the cost of moving the container to a new location.
The charity’s Hendon programme manager, Nicole Sleeman, said: “Local people know we use the track to help people with additional needs, but because we’ve had no trouble in the past, and because they were in a secure unit on a well-used local facility, the bikes weren’t insured. It’s a massive loss for us. The impact we see from such a simple activity is huge.
“To have the bikes stolen is devastating, not to mention the cost to replace them.”
As a charity we are under increased financial pressure like never before so it impacts us in that way but more poignantly this is literally taking a lifeline away from someone who needs this help and support.North East Autism Society’s chief executive John Phillipson
Staff believe their regular attendance at the track must have flagged up the possibility of a break-in to the thieves.
The theft comes as the society prepares for World Autism Awareness Week.
NEAS chief executive John Phillipson said: “This is a time when we are all gearing up to raise awareness of autism and the crucial services we provide.
“It seems such a shame to be publicising the fact our students and residents have been dealt this cruel blow.
“As a charity we are under increased financial pressure like never before, so it impacts us in that way, but more poignantly this is literally taking a lifeline away from someone who needs this help and support.
“It’s a disgusting act.”
The charity is appealing for help to find the thieves.
Nicole added: “We would desperately like to have them back.
“The go-karts and the side-by-side bike isn’t something you would see every day so we’re sure people will have seen them around.
“Anyone help would be gratefully received.”
The break-in happened between 8.30pm on Thursday, March 17, and noon the following day.
Anyone with information is asked to call Northumbria Police on 101.