Thieves have stolen the heating oil from a Sure Start centre for young children in one of the most deprived parts of Londonderry.
The Little Hands Sure Start charity centre and creche on the Ringfort Road area of Hazelbank was targeted between 2am and 4.20am on Friday.
Two men were caught on CCTV breaking through a fence and cutting a lock on the oil tank before draining the tank into drums and leaving.
Staff are now so afraid of a repeat attack that they are currently tipping just a little oil at a time into the tank.
Little Hands manager Martina Storey said that those behind the £300 oil theft had robbed from the community, and worse, from the children.
Ms Storey said staff had arrived to work on Friday morning and smelt the oil. Upon investigation they found the damaged fence and the tank emptied.
“These adults who took it stole from children in the community and people are horrified that others, if they did come from the community, would do that to their neighbours,” she said.
“The young children that use this centre need a nice warm building for when they are coming in. Funding is tight and we have to heat our centres and provide a safe space.
“We know that there are some families going to the extent of not putting on heating at home during that time when their children are here because money is tight everywhere.
“We are here to help give children the best possible start in life and support them and their families.”
A PSNI spokeswoman hit out at those behind the incident.
She said: “This centre is a vital local resource caring for very young children and the cost of repairing the damage caused and replacing the oil puts tremendous pressure on this service.”
The incident is the latest in a spate of fuel thefts in the North West.
On the same night, 13 40-kilo bags of coal were stolen from Campsie Fuels on the Donnybrewer Road.
Anyone with information about either incident is asked to contact police on 0845 600 8000.
Little Hands Sure Start works with around 1,000 families from pre-natal parents through to pre-school children aged four. The areas covered include some of the most economically deprived parts of Northern Ireland, including Ballymagroarty.