A vicar has told of his shock after his flock narrowly avoided being caught up in a car crash that part demolished a church hall.
The Reverend Vernon Cuthbert said around 80 people had attended a ceilidh in the Old Schoolroom at All Saints Church, Cleadon, just hours before the hit-and-run incident.
At 2am, the vehicle smashed through metal barriers on Front Street and rammed into the side of the building, leaving a gaping hole and fears of partial collapse.
He revealed it was the second time in eight months a stolen motor had left the road at the same sharp right-handed bend and struck the hall.
Repairs from that incident had yet to be completed – and Rev Cuthbert has now urged a review of road safety.
He said: “About 80 people were at the ceilidh, and they were there until about 11pm on Saturday. I am shocked by this latest accident but relieved that no-one was hurt. People had been using the hall until around 11pm.
“This is a community building and this accident has caused disruption to that. Groups regularly use it, but they can’t now. We are trying to relocate all of them, but that may not be possible.
“Last July a stolen Ford Transit left the road at the same spot and caused damage which still needed some rendering work to finish.
“We hadn’t sorted the insurance for that yet.”
In Sunday’s incident, it is understood a taxi was taken by a passenger after an altercation with the driver.
Colleagues of the taxi driver say he has been left shocked by the incident and is cooperating with detectives.
A spokesman at Richmond Taxis, in South Shields, said: “He is very upset by this. He is talking to the police but doesn’t want to say anything else about what happened.”
Sunderland Road has been closed to traffic at the accident site while structural engineers assess the level of damage.
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “Structural surveyors are currently assessing the condition of the building and will report back to the Building Control team
“The road will remain closed with diversions in place until we are satisfied that the structure of the building poses no risk to public safety.”
Police are asking drivers to avoid the area where possible and have appealed for witnesses.
Anyone with information is asked to ring 101, quoting reference 64 310319 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111