THIEVES have stolen dozens of bikes from children with special needs.

A total of 28 bikes were stolen from the Cedar Centre in Lynchet Close, Brighton, in four different raids.

They were taken days before 21 were stolen from the Pupil Referral Unit next-door.

Police are linking the two incidents and have arrested a 12-year-old boy.

Damian Crean, a teacher at the Cedar Centre, said the loss had devastated children at his school who were now unable to do daily activities.

He added: "The bikes are a means of empowering them, boosting their self-esteem and enhancing their independence. They are hugely important. The loss is really devastating and frustrating."

Mr Crean said one of their bikes had been recovered after it was spotted being ridden locally by a youngster who ran off when challenged.

The Cedar Centre has about 75 pupils, aged from six to 16 and with a wide range of special needs including learning difficulties, attachment difficulties, Autistic Spectrum Condition, speech, language and communication needs, and social, emotional and behavioural problems.

They use the bikes to explore the world around them on bike rides and exercise in school.

Mr Crean said: "These are some of the most vulnerable children in our community. You see how much it helps them to learn how to cycle; it's a revelation.

"And for some biking is a great release - if they have low self esteem, team sports can be difficult. On a bike they can get out in a group, and are less likely to get into conflict."

He added: "We also try and educate the children that there are consequences to their actions and that message is somewhat diluted [by this]."

A 12-year-old Brighton boy has been arrested on suspicion of burglary with intent to steal, attempted burglary with intent to steal, and receiving stolen goods. He has been released on bail until October 27.

Anyone with information can call police on 101.

The school is now trying to raise money to repair the shed and replace the bikes, which were donated to them by the charity Sustrans, estimating this will run into thousands of pounds.

The Bison Arms in Middle Street, Brighton, is holding a fundraiser for them on October 15.

Police have donated £1,500 to the Pupil Referral Unit to help them replace their bikes.

The bike shed at the Cedar Centre was targeted four times over the August bank holiday weekend, while the Pupil Referral Unit was targeted some time between Saturday, September 3 and 10am on Monday, September 5.

To donate to the Cedar Centre, contact the School Business Manager James Lewin on 01273 558 622.