POLICE and ambulance chiefs are hoping CCTV footage on a stolen ambulance could be the key to catching the culprits who took the vehicle on a joyride.
North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) chiefs have released further details about the theft of one of their vehicles which happened after paramedics tended to an assault victim at a house in Wynyard Road, Hartlepool.
As reported by the Hartlepool Mail on Monday, joyriders are being hunted by police after the ambulance was taken while paramedics treated a female assault victim inside the property.
The vehicle was found abandoned undamaged with nothing stolen, with its lights flashing, in nearby Monach Road 20 minutes later, after a search which involved the Cleveland Police helicopter.
The ambulance was further delayed from being brought back into use as police carried out forensic tests.
Police inquiries are still ongoing into the incident.
Mark Cotton, NEAS’s assistant director of communications and engagement, hit out at the actions which he said could have put people’s lives at risk.
He said: “It was very lucky that the patient did not need to go into hospital.
“This could have put the patient’s life at risk had we needed to take the patient to hospital.
“We don’t know how many other 999 calls we could have got to faster had that ambulance been available.”
He said ambulances are usually left locked but with the engine running in order to maintain the power supply to equipment.
Mr Cotton added: “This left Hartlepool without an ambulance for the rest of the night and over the weekend, when it was incredibly busy for us.
“This was probably a prank, but people don’t realise how serious these pranks can turn.
“It may have had serious implications.
“We had to take the ambulance off the road while we checked CCTV footage in the vehicle itself so we can identify people who try to steal it.”
Mr Cotton said more than half of NEAS ambulances now have CCTV on board, having started to install the system 18 months ago.
The CCTV installation follows a previous theft of an ambulance from the ambulance station in Billingham in March, last year.
He added: “It was originally installed in order to identify patients who try to assault our crews but we have used it to apprehend people for stealing ambulances.”
CCTV is being rolled out to the rest of the NEAS fleet.
“It is expensive for us to do, but even more expensive for us not to,” said Mr Cotton.
A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said: “Inquiries are ongoing into the theft of the ambulance from Wynyard Road.”
Anyone with information about the incident, which happened around 1.40am on Sunday, is urged to call PC Kevin Stones of Hartlepool Police on (01642) 302126 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800555111.