THE trial of seven youths accused of burning down a North-East community centre was abandoned by prosecutors yesterday.

The accused were due to stand trial for arson after Skerne Park Community Centre, in Darlington, was burnt down in March.

But the Crown Service Prosecution Service (CPS) told Bishop Auckland Youth Court yesterday that it wished to discontinue the case against the four boys and three girls, aged between 13 and 17.

David Chadwick, divisional prosecutor for South Durham, told The Northern Echo the CPS had received additional statements from police that meant the prosecution was no longer sustainable.

"We have a duty to keep cases under continual review," he said.

"Unless there is a realistic prospect of conviction, we have a duty to discontinue proceedings."

Last night, community leaders on the estate told of the devastating effect of the arson attack.

Burglars ripped down boards and stole equipment from the centre the day after the fire and it remained closed for three months.

Councillor Cyndi Hughes, a member of the centre's management committee, said: "The damage the people who did this caused the community, in terms of the activities that we weren't able to offer, is a crying shame.

"We thank God that we didn't have any problems with human life.

"I'm disappointed that the perpetrators, whoever they are, who hurt the community in that way, are not being brought to justice."

Community centre secretary Joyce Standing said: "I am very, very upset. The people who did this did not know whether there was anybody in that building and they caused £10,000 worth of damage."

A Durham Police spokesman said: "A full and thorough investigation was carried out and a file submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service, who have taken the decision not to proceed with the case."