YOBS have torched a new £45,000 play area, leaving it a scorched wreck.

The large multi-play unit at Hardie Close, Stanford-le-Hope, was installed just three months ago to the delight of local youngsters.

But it was set alight by vandals sometime before 8pm on Monday in what is being treated as an arson attack.

Sue Macpherson, Thurrock’s councillor for children’s services, accused the firebugs of ruining “years of future fun” for local youngsters.

She said: “I cannot believe these ignorant, mindless spoilers.

“Thurrock Council worked hard to get the money to provide state-of-the-art, modern equipment so young people would have somewhere safe and fun to play.

“One person, or a small group of people, have ruined years of future fun for young residents — probably their own neighbours or even siblings. It’s beyond belief.”

The equipment was installed as part of the Government’s million-pound Playbuilder Programme.

This is the second time expensive equipment at the park has been destroyed by fire.

In 2006, a gang of yobs torched the new skatepark, prompting residents and the community forum to call for CCTV and regular patrols in the park to avoid a repeat incident.

Mrs Macpherson has appealed for witnesses to the latest incident to come forward.

She added: “This happened in the early evening.

“Somebody must have seen something and I appeal to them to let the police know what they saw.

“We can’t let this happen unchallenged.”

Essex Police area commander, Inspector Rachel Wood, said: “This is a despicable crime, and young children are the ultimate losers.

“We would urge anyone with information about this arson to contact us immediately at Corringham police station on 0300 333444.”