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Computer thieves tunnel into community centre

PUBLISHED: 21:57 29 September 2010 | UPDATED: 11:13 14 October 2010

HEARTLESS thieves stole £18,000 worth of new computers after tunnelling up through the floorboards of a community centre in a burglary likened to Hollywood classic The Great Escape. Police are hunting for at least two people who broke into cellars below W

HEARTLESS thieves stole £18,000 worth of new computers after tunnelling up through the floorboards of a community centre in a burglary likened to Hollywood classic The Great Escape.

Police are hunting for at least two people who broke into cellars below Whitecross Community Centre, in Chequer Street, Finsbury, before smashing into the IT room above and stealing around 16 brand new HP Elite 6930P laptops.

The break-in happened sometime between Friday, September 17, and 11am on Monday, September 20, when the centre reopened after the weekend.

Marianne Connolly, chairwoman of the Whitecross Community Centre management committee, said: "We thought the floor had collapsed. We didn't even know there was a basement, then we realised someone had come up through the floor.

"Once they breached the security down there they've been very clever. It was like an Ealing Comedy moment."

The community centre, on The Whitecross Street Estate, only opened in April this year following a £25,000 conversion of a disused rent office.

As well as IT training it offers services such as yoga, reflexology, bike repair workshops and OAP bingo nights to one of the poorest communities in central London.

Ms Connolly said: "For this to happen so early in the process of getting things up and running is a very sad act. We've got pensioners and people whose families live on the other side of the world. These computers were their means of communication. The hardest part of it was we had 20 pensioners coming in for the lunch club straight after, so we had to just carry on as normal. The IT room is out of use but the rest of the centre is still available to hire and we won't let something like this stop us."

Police acting on leads have carried out searches of eight properties in the area, but all have drawn a blank. There is no CCTV footage of the break-in. Detectives believe the culprits must have had insider knowledge of the centre to tunnel so accurately.

Detective Constable Mick Craighill said: "It's a maze of rooms and pipes in the cellar. They've knocked their way through the floorboards in between the beams, hacking with a hammer or crowbars. There must have been more than one of them to get rid of the gear through the hole in the floor. It was only about two foot by two foot wide.

"But it's clear whoever's done it knows the place extremely well to pop up exactly in the middle of the room with all the six-month-old laptops in."

A spokesman for The Peabody Trust housing association, which owns and manages the Whitecross Street Estate, said the burglary was "like something from The Great Escape".

He added: "This is obviously a very disappointing incident. Police are investigating the theft, and replacement of the computers is being dealt with by our insurer."

Anyone with information should contact Islington Burglary Squad on 020 7421 0172 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 to remain anonymous.


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