Three drunk and "mindless" youths have been handed referral orders after deliberately trashing a model railway exhibition worth £30,000.

The schoolboys, along with a fourth defendant, shared a bottle of vodka as part of a "pre-exam night out" before going on a 4am "rampage" and destroying the exhibition, a court heard.

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.

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.

Stands which were overturned at the school in Stamford, Lincolnshire Credit: Market Deeping Model Railway Club/PA

Lincoln Youth Court was told the youths then deliberately pushed tables over and threw parts of displays at the wall in what they themselves described as an act of "stupidity".

After police were called due to a notification from the school's alarm system, the youths were eventually found in the school toilets and arrested.

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

Three of the youths were handed 12-month referral orders and their parents were also ordered to pay £500 in compensation.

The damage occurred on May 18. Credit: Market Deeping Model Railway Club/PA

A 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".

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.

John Lock
More than £107,000 has been raised by members of the public to repair the exhibitions Credit: 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.

John Lock

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.

Ms Wilson

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.

The Market Deeping Model Railway Club was holding its annual show at the school Credit: Market Deeping Model Railway Club/PA

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.

Statement by Mr Kneeshaw

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".