STAFF at a Ballymoney charity for people with learning disabilities say they are devastated after thieves made off with over £1,000 following a break-in at their offices.

The callous burglary occurred at Compass Advocacy Network’s Seymour Street premises.

The bulk of the cash stolen was money raised for Children in Need by young people who use the charity’s services.

Officers from the PSNI’s Crime Investigation Department attended the scene to carry out investigations on Thursday.

They discovered the front door of the building had been knocked in and a number of items had been taken from a filing cabinet in the office including an envelope clearly marked ‘Children in Need’.

It contained £450 cash, a further £125 bundle of cash and a cheque for £113.

Another brown envelope containing £170 was stolen and the culprits also made off with petty cash of £197.

The money taken had been raised by a youth group at Compass Advocacy Network called Project S.Inc which caters for young people aged 12 to 18 with a range of learning difficulties.

It was the proceeds from fundraising events including a pub quiz and raffle at Ballymoney United Football Club, a Cupcake Day and a member of staff having his head shaved.

Compass Advocacy Network is a registered charity employing eight staff and approximately 25 volunteers.

Around 240 people access the services the body provides on a regular basis.

It organises a number of events for young people including social activities and trips.

Project S.Inc is partly funded by Children In Need with the remaining money needed to run projects raised by the charity.

Manager of Compass Advocacy Network, Linda McKendry, said the burglary will adversely affect the group which relies heavily on donations from local people.

“This will jeopardise services and affect children on the project,” said Linda.

“We had treats lined up for the children which might not go ahead now.

“The kids we cater for are all local which hurts.

“Whoever did this would have known that.

“None of this money can be reimbursed from anywhere.

“The staff here are devastated.”

The youth project run by Compass Advocacy Network is the only one of its kind in Northern Ireland, entitled The Fun and Friendship Programme, with the other nine based on the UK mainland.

Recently a party from Ballymoney travelled to Belfast to meet Hollywood actor Verne Troyer.

Linda said the body would now have to try and raise the money taken again for projects it had in the pipeline.

“The money raised this time around was particularly special to the children as they raised it by themselves this year,” said Linda.

“They wanted to raise money for children who are not as fortunate as themselves.”

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She added: “I’ve worked for this organisation for 12 years and we have had nothing but support from the people of Ballymoney.

“We have always felt very, very safe here.

“We have never had the need for heavy security before, we like to be accessible to the public.

“Maybe we can’t be as accessible now and as open as we have been which is sad as for some of those who come along to us it’s the only interaction they have with others.

“It hurts to think anyone could be so callous.”

The break-in occurred sometime on the evening of Wednesday 4 January and the early hours of the following day.

Sergeant Gary McMaster from Ballymoney PSNI appealed for anyone with information regarding the incident to contact police on 0845 600 8000 or alternatively through the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.

He added: “If you ever notice anything untoward in your neighbourhood, unknown vehicles outside premises or neighbouring land in rural areas note down important details such as the vehicle registration and contact police immediately.”

“Police will follow up on your call and there is every possibility your prompt information could prevent a crime.

“If you have any concerns or would like crime prevention advice please contact your neighbourhood policing team or dedicated crime prevention officer on 0845 600 8000.”