By SARAH O’CONNELL
On Thursday night, the Cassandra Centre, a charity in Norbury that works with the victims of domestic violence, suffered a break-in and theft of equipment. It was the third break-in at the centre in the last 12 months.
“I knew there was something wrong, the letterbox was hanging open, and it’s never like that, I just knew something was wrong,” said Sophie Jones, a caseworker at the Cassandra Centre, who was first on the premises on Friday morning, alongside her colleague, Chiola Sutherland.
The women unlocked the door and went upstairs, tentatively. When they reached the first floor, they knew for sure they’d been burgled.
“The office was a total mess, all the drawers and cupboard doors were hanging open, papers and boxes were strewn everywhere. The whole room had been ransacked. We were devastated.
“This is a centre for women who suffer from domestic abuse. Why would anyone do this?”
After exploring further, they found other rooms similarly trashed and devastated, including that of Cassandra Centre CEO, Jennifer McDermott, whose locked office door had been prized open.
Both knew they had to call her and tell her the horrible news. “We knew how upset she would be so it was a very hard call to make.”
Minutes later, McDermott was at the centre. The police were called. For the third time this year. The centre is within a couple of hundred yards of the old Norbury police station, one of dozens which were closed when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London.
The police report will have noted that computer equipment and tablets had been stolen with a value of around £3,000.
“I only bought it this week to replace the equipment that had been stolen a few months ago – we haven’t even had our insurance claim dealt with yet,” McDermott, her voice breaking with emotion, told Inside Croydon.
The thief had got in through an upper window at the back of the building. In order to do that, he had to climb over a six-foot wall with spiked barriers laid across it, up a fire exit and then in through a firmly boarded up window – which was still waiting to be reglazed after the previous burglary.
CCTV footage in the centre shows a white male walking the corridors, wearing a face covering and gloves.
The police told Jennifer that it would take them 24 hours to attend the scene, but did send a forensic examiner to the centre within two hours. He told her no traces of DNA were to be found.
Volunteers helped tidy and clean the centre that evening, but yesterday, when Jennifer returned to open up the centre, she was greeted by smashed glass on her front door in what looks like a fourth attempt to break in.
“I just cried,” she said.
“It makes you think, ‘what is the point?’ But we know that our work must continue because so many people need us.”
The Cassandra Centre was established in 2011 and is named after Jennifer’s daughter, Cassandra, who was brutally killed by her ex-boyfriend in 2001. She was just 19 years old.
In the past 10 years, the Cassandra Centre has established itself as a well-known and much-respected community hub, offering support, advice and guidance to women, girls and boys who suffer domestic abuse. During the 2020 lockdown, the centre also supplied 150 hot, home-delivered meals every week to those in need, and more than 1,000 meals overall.
If you would like to donate to the Cassandra Centre the link is here https://www.justgiving.com/cassandralearningcentre
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