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Hospice workers won't be beaten

PUBLISHED: 06:15 03 June 2005 | UPDATED: 05:54 02 March 2010

THEY'VE been threatened, had to look on as yobs ran amok in their store, had food thrown at them and now their shop has nearly been burned down.

But Julia Johnson and her volunteer workers at an Ipswich charity shop will not give up their good work.

THEY'VE been threatened, had to look on as yobs ran amok in their store, had food thrown at them and now their shop has nearly been burned down.

But Julia Johnson and her volunteer workers at an Ipswich charity shop will not give up their good work.

After the latest incident, a suspected arson attack which destroyed donated goods worth £2,000, the volunteers have been left shell-shocked.

Suffolk Police has launched an investigation into the cause of the fire, which gutted two sheds behind the St Elizabeth Hospice shop in Nacton Road. It is being treated as suspicious.

But it is only the latest in a series of incidents inflicted on the shop and the Bunn family who live in the flat above.

Julia Johnson, the shop manager, said: "We've had windows smashed, we've had a fire before when someone set some bags on fire. And we've had to call the police in a few times."

On February 19 two boys, aged 13 and 14, entered the shop and knocked clothes onto the floor before breaking furniture which would have been sold to help care for hospice users and insulting staff.

"I had food thrown at me and they threatened to beat me up," Ms Johnson added.

"They also threatened the volunteers - they give their time up for a local cause and they face that.

"They also broke a table outside the front of the shop. They chucked it across the pavement and they broke a child's buggy we had out the front as well."

Generous residents had donated hundreds of items of clothing, soft toys and electrical goods to help the charity raise funds to care for the sick. But they were destroyed by the blaze on Sunday night.

The shop and flat were only saved by the quick work of firefighters.

Now the shop workers have been left with a huge clean-up task but they are adamant the yobs will not stop them raising more for the terminally ill.

Lesley Cockerton, St Elizabeth Hospice chief executive, said: "Nacton Road is one of our really good shops in terms of the donated goods that come in. There's a great sense from the volunteers who work there that they are achieving something.

"But when something like this happens it's a bit of a blow. It's the mindlessness of the actions of these people. The shop was empty but the potential for harm was definitely there."

Sunday's fire is thought to have begun when clothes were pulled out of one of the sheds and set alight.

Unruly children have been a persistent nuisance in the area and workers at a nearby restaurant were said to have seen children climbing onto the roof of a bank overlooking the charity shop's garden shortly before the fire broke out.

St Elizabeth Hospice has now decided to upgrade security at the shop and is considering installing a CCTV camera and movement-detection lighting.

It has urged anyone with spare clothes and other appropriate goods to donate them so it can get the shop back onto its feet.

Ms Johnson added: "We especially need things for Christmas. I've lost everything I put aside for Christmas."

Weblink: www.stelizabethhospice.org.uk

SUFFOLK Police urged the public to help with its investigation into the fire at the St Elizabeth Hospice charity shop and in its wider battle to reduce crime in the area.

The force has joined with Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council and a number of volunteer groups to establish a Community Reassurance Team charged with reducing crime in south east Ipswich.

In its first year the scheme led to a doubling in the number of police officers on the beat and three new Community Support Officers (CSOs).

Simon Stephens, Suffolk Police spokesman, said: "Suffolk Police is committed to making the county safer but we're also committed to working in partnership with other agencies to solve the problems which can have an adverse affect on people's lives.

"Crucial to the Community Reassurance Team's success is the partnership with local people who can play their part by giving information to the police about crime and anti-social behaviour."

Anyone with information about the charity shop fire should contact Suffolk Police on 01473 613 500.


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