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A GROUP of young children were trapped behind a locked fire escape at a leisure centre when a fire alarm sounded.

The youngsters aged five to seven year olds had been training with Essex Stars cheerleading squad at Southend Leisure and Tennis Centre in Garon Park when an alarm went off.

The group of 18 children were evacuated by their coach Rachel Blatch and two adult helpers from the first floor bar being used as a studio down some stairs but the fire exit doors were chained and padlocked shut.

One mum, who didn’t want to be named, said: “They couldn’t get out. What if that had been a real fire? I hate to think what would have happened.”

It happened during a power cut which affected 1,162 homes and businesses in the area.

Rachel, who has run Essex Stars from the centre for three years, said; “The children screamed when the lights went out. Then the alarm went off seconds later and the tannoy said to evacuate we told them to pair up and get in a line and they really well behaved and not panicking.

“We tried to go down stairs to get to the parents and were told by staff to go another way but we got to the bottom and the door was chained and padlocked.

“It was a shock I had 18 children eight and under in my control and all my responsibility and we didn’t know what the alarm was for. We hadn’t been told it was a drill but I just thought about their safety and getting them out.

“I hope the centre learns from this. I have asked for a written apology from the manager.”

The group ended up going back up the stairs one floor through the gym and out the main entrance to be met by anxious parents who had seen the whole thing through the glazed stairwell.

Rachel added: “The children followed my instructions perfectly I’m so proud of them. They made a difficult situation easier.

“The parents understandably were extremely unhappy. The manager told us they were going to look into what had happened.”

Parkwood Leisure who run the centre for Southend Council said it is investigating.

Joanne Martin, sales and marketing director at Parkwood, said: “We are taking the incident very seriously and a formal investigation has been started.

“Until that investigation has been completed, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further.”