Three “mindless” youths shared a bottle of vodka as part of pre-exam night out before deliberately trashing a model railway exhibition worth £30,000, a court heard.

The schoolboys, along with a fourth defendant, went on a 4am “rampage” by pushing tables over and throwing parts of displays against the wall.

Members of the Market Deeping Model Railway Club said a “life’s work” had been destroyed during the vandalism on May 18 – with some displays taking years to complete.

Model railway exhibition vandalised
Stands which were overturned at the school in Stamford, Lincolnshire (Market Deeping Model Railway Club/PA)

Magistrates at Lincoln Youth Court ordered the three boys’ parents to pay back £500 in compensation due to the “not repairable or replaceable” damage.

The 16-year-old defendants, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had decided to play football in the gym at the Stamford Welland Academy in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and continued their game despite displays being destroyed.

The court heard police were called due to a notification from the school’s alarm system and the youths were eventually found in the school toilets and arrested.

Model railway exhibition vandalised
The damage occurred on May 18 (Market Deeping Model Railway Club/PA)

At court on Monday, the four boys admitted criminal damage.

Three of the youths were handed 12-month referral orders while the fourth boy, who also appeared in court, was told he would be sentenced on September 2.

More than £107,000 has been raised by members of the public to repair the exhibitions – to which the club chairman told the PA News Agency he was “overwhelmed”.

Model railway exhibition vandalised
More than £107,000 has been raised by members of the public to repair the exhibitions (Market Deeping Model Railway Club/PA)

Singer Sir Rod Stewart – a long-standing model rail enthusiast – personally donated £10,000 to the club after hearing about the vandalism.

At the sentencing hearing, Chairman of the bench of magistrates, John Lock, told the youths: “In nearly 20 years on the bench, I cannot recall such a case as this, of mindless, wanton destruction. It beggars belief.

“In the dead of night, when people are in their beds in the main, you were out playing football, which is extraordinary at that time of night.

“You came across the displays and models, all of you… and not content with kicking a ball, you then went on a rampage. The mindlessness comes shining through.”

Model railway exhibition vandalised
The Market Deeping Model Railway Club was holding its annual show at the school (Market Deeping Model Railway Club/PA)

Despite the damage caused, the magistrates decided not to send the boys to custody.

Mr Lock continued: “It would not be right to put you into custody. You have all got good futures and it is right that you make best use of them.

“There will be a referral order. It will last for 12 months, which is the longest you can make an order for – there would be a wish that you could make it longer, but you can’t.

“Nothing can compensate for what you did that night”.

Opening the case against the youths, prosecutor Shelley Wilson said the four boys had made admissions in interviews about the damage.

Speaking of one of the boys, Ms Wilson said: “He said he went in to play football and to sleep.

“They saw the displays but continued to play. He claimed (the damage) was accidental.

“He then said he pushed over a few displays and caused some damage, as did the others.”

The court heard how one model railway enthusiast from St Neots Model Railway Club, John Kneeshaw, who had contributed to the exhibition, had been on the receiving end of £15,000 worth of damage.

One of Mr Kneeshaw’s displays, which was around 20ft long, 12ft deep and 6ft wide, was valued at around £5,000 – with all of his models taking 20-25 years to build in what he described as a “labour of love”.

Reading a statement by Mr Kneeshaw to the court, Ms Wilson said: “You can’t just buy them, they are all made by me and are unique.

“I am in total shock as to what has happened and why. The cost emotionally is very high – this is years of work and I do not understand why anyone would want to do this.

“It is truly devastating. It had been systematically destroyed by whoever had done it – the damage is not repairable or replaceable.”

One of the boys’ defence solicitors, Lynford Fuller, said they were “in drink”, which may have “impaired their judgment”.

The youths apologised for their behaviour, while their parents said they were “ashamed” and “disappointed”.