VANDALS started a fire and covered Halstead’s Public Gardens in paint on the eve of one of the town’s biggest events of the year.

The Public Gardens committee was horrified to discover vandals had started a bonfire and did their utmost to damage the site on the morning of May Day.

They broke into the gardeners shed, and started a fire with a leftover Guy Fawkes, before covering the bandstand and benches in paint.

With the committee unsure how to resolve the issue, and time ticking down until the start of the celebrations, Braintree Council’s street team stepped in and miraculously cleared the site in a matter of hours.

Despite incidents of vandalism in the public gardens being few and far between, the park has always been used as a spot for youths to gather after dark, despite the gates being locked at dusk.

Linda Hilton, of the Public Gardens committee, said: “It is dangerous, and nonsensical to be honest, there is nothing to be achieved.

“It has always been a slight issue, for as long as I remember, youngsters have hung out in there after it is closed.

“But it is one thing to sit in there having a chat, and a completely different thing to be causing damage and setting things on fire.

“It is a hidden dark place, so it will always attract people late at night, but damaging property and starting fires is not okay.

“New fences, higher fences, have been placed on the agenda for our next meeting, but I don’t know how much difference that will make.”

Linda admitted the committee held a huge a huge debt of gratitude to Braintree Council.

She said: “I think Braintree Council saved May Day in many ways.

“We were amazed, first to see the state of the Public Gardens, and then to see that Braintree managed to clear the mess before the celebrations.

We definitely owe them a lot for that, because we wouldn’t have managed to resolve it.”

A Braintree Council spokesman said: “It’s great to hear that our street scene team have been recognised for their efficient work and commitment that ensured the town’s May Day celebrations went ahead without interruption and the gardens were clean & tidy for residents to enjoy. This really does demonstrate how important the work they do is.

“If residents are experiencing or witnessing instances of anti-social behaviour they should report to Braintree District Council, Essex Police or their housing association.”

Essex Police said the vandals gained entry to the shed by damaging the lock, before ransacking the interior and removing a quantity of shingles, roof tiles, and straw, and made a bonfire using these items.

It took place between 7pm on April 30, and 8.45am on May 1.