FURIOUS residents have called for swift justice on the vandals who burned down play equipment in the Valley Gardens’ at the weekend.
The centrepiece of the popular play park, the wooden fort, was completely destroyed. The play park was only opened in 2009 at a cost of £180,000 - and has been extremeley popular with families since then.
Four teenagers have been bailed, but not charged, in connection with the suspected arson. Four others were arrested and released without charge.
Speaking to the Advertiser this week, eyewitness Neil Ascough, 27, described the chaotic scenes when the fire first took hold at just before 3am on Saturday.
“I wasn’t expecting to be woken up by my partner and being told the Valley Gardens are on fire,” he said. “She made the first call to the fire brigade. It was only a small fire then but by the time she got off the phone it had turned into an inferno.
“You couldn’t feel the heat but you could hear the fire. There were sparks and embers flying about everywhere and onto the road.”
Community leaders have condemned the “reckless individuals” who carried out the “criminal act.”
Coun Caroline Bayliss, Cabinet Member for Cultural Services at Harrogate Borough Council, said: “I sincerely hope those responsible will be brought to justice very quickly.
“The police have made some very quick arrests and I have no doubt that the CCTV coverage will be useful to them.”
A spokesperson for the council said they have yet to make a decision on the future of the site but did confirm its insurers have assessed the loss and all the debris is due to be cleared today, Friday.
Readers, meanwhile, have also been reacting to the incident this week.
Hannah Allan, 38, from Harrogate said her six-year-old son William was devastated when he heard the news. “He really liked the fort and was always going in the turret to hide up there,” she said.
“It’s just shocking, mindless vandalism and a complete disregard for children’s happiness.”
In a joint letter to the Advertiser, Bethany Moody, Megan Lickley and Emily McWilliams- all pupils at Bilton Grange Primary School – said they were equally upset.
“We have seen a picture of the damage on the internet. It looks terrible,” they wrote.
“We are very disappointed with the people who did it, we hope they realise that there are hundreds of children who will miss playing on the woodwork. We hope that the people involved do community service to clear up the mess.”
I For the full story, see this week’s Harrogate Advertiser.