School year ends on sour note with theft of cycles

June 28, 2011

By Brónagh Murphy

A school Principal has spoken of his anger and disappointment after six bicycles belonging to pupils were stolen from the school premises.

Mr Pat O’Hanlon from St. Patrick’s Primary School in Cullyhanna described the theft as “despicable” and called on anyone with information, or who knows the whereabouts of the bikes, to contact him directly or the police, who are investigating.

The bicycles belonged to Primary 7 pupils who had been using them to participate in a Cycling Proficiency Scheme, teaching 11-year-olds about road safety.  They were among a total of 13 being stored in a locked cage at the rear of the school when they were stolen sometime between 11.00pm on Wednesday and 8.00am the following morning. Teachers discovered them missing on Thursday morning when pupils were about to take their cycling test.

Mr O’Hanlon says that although on a number of occasions in recent times trespassers were found to have been using the school grounds as a drinking den – and on one such occasion defaced a wall with graffiti – this is the first such incident of theft at the school.

“To steal children’s bikes is a despicable crime.  We have been doing this Cycling Proficiency Scheme for more than twenty years and have never had any incidents such as this in all that time.

“Rather than having the children face the dangers of riding to and from school on their bike each day, we have always offered to keep the bikes in school for the two-week duration of the scheme, purely as a safety precaution,” he explained.

“We are very disappointed.  We feel that we have let the parents down as well as the children because we assured them the bikes would be safe.  It’s just awful,” he added.

One of the bikes had been bought just two weeks ago, specifically for the cycling test, and all were well-known and expensive models.  It’s estimated the total value of the six bicycles is more than £1,000.

Mr O’Hanlon says he is presently working with the school’s insurers seeking recompense for the loss and admits that school funds would just not extend to the cost of replacing the bikes.

He says the affect the theft has had on the pupils has been one of the most upsetting aspects.

“What is distressing is that most of the bikes were gifts and some had been paid for by the children themselves,” he said.

“Unfortunately this will probably be one of their lasting memories of their final days in the school, when they got their bikes stolen.”

Two of the bikes were later found during a search of fields surrounding the school.  It appeared that they had been concealed in a ditch, perhaps placed there for the thieves to return for them another time.  Both bikes had been significantly damaged.

Condeming the incident, local Sinn Fein Councillor, Colman Burns, “This was a despicable act and has caused a lot of distress to the young children who have lost their bicycles.  A person who would steal a child’s Christmas present has reached a new low and would steal anything.

“This is just the latest in a wave of robberies throughout the district and I would appeal to everyone to look out for each other and watch for any suspicious activity,” he added.

Police confirmed they are investigating the theft and have appealed for witnesses or anyone with information to contact them on 0845 600 8000.