CHILDREN at a school are heartbroken after two of their hens were thought to have been stolen from the grounds.

Staff and pupils at Marchbank Free School in Mowden, Darlington, expressed their sadness after finding two of their three hens missing on Wednesday morning.

The two hens, named by the children as Chicken and Licken, were part of a scheme at the school to get pupils involved with raising and taking care of animals.

The hens were incubated as eggs by the school three years ago, through a breeding programme, and were then raised from chicks and taken care of by the pupils.

John Craggs, maintenance and grounds manager at the school, said: “On Tuesday night we were broken into. The hen’s pen had all the locks broken off and two out of our three hens were taken.

“It’s very upsetting for everyone. The kids have followed this up for three years and they have gotten so attached to them."

Marchbank school specialises in teaching children aged from five to ten who have Social Emotional and Mental Health difficulties (SEMH).

The schools focuses its curriculum around the theme of food and said it encourages the children to work alongside adults to grow their own food to use in the school kitchen or during cookery lessons.

The hens were introduced to the school as part of its curriculum by teaching the children to collect the eggs and look after the birds.

Alongside the hens, pupils enjoy the responsibility of taking care of two ducks, named Jemima and Puddleduck.

Mr Craggs said: “We have children with various stages of autism or who have social difficulties which, in a way, means they take the news of the hens missing even harder.

"The hens were so tame they would let the children pet them and even pick them up. In the summer time the children go out to feed them and collect the eggs.

“The annoying part is that the kids breeded them and raised them from eggs, and we had a tricky time with a couple of them as well. One wouldn’t eat so we had to come back every couple of hours to make sure it was feeding.

“It’s heart-breaking. We got so attached to them. I have been in every single day to feed them, it’s a 365-day-a-year job.

“We got the hens for a reason, for our children, and it’s a very comforting thing for them."

Marchbank Free School informed the police when they discovered the incident and investigations are ongoing.

Mr Craggs added.“We have got the police involved who will be coming here to look into it. We’re going to check our CCTV, so that might show something up.”

The school are hoping to spread the message far and wide in the hope the children can be reunited with their feathered friends.

A spokeswoman for Durham Constabulary said: “We received a report that two hens were stolen from Barnes Road, in Darlington, overnight on Tuesday, December 4.

“Anyone with any information is asked to call Durham Constabulary on 101, quoting reference 176 of December 5.”