Thieves chase ambulances

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The Independent Online
Inner-city thieves have begun to target front-line ambulances in search of drugs and valuable equipment. Senior officers believe that the emergence of paramedic crews able to use a range of drugs may be one reason for the attacks. But in the West Midlands, where incidents have risen in the past six months, Bob Seaward, director of operations for the ambulance service, said that they do not yet carry the sorts of drugs which addicts would want to steal.

Last week, a brick was thrown at the windscreen of an ambulance taking a seven-year-old girl to hospital.

The West Midlands service is now logging incidents. Mr Seaward estimates that there is one a week. "We began to notice reports about 18 months ago. They were isolated incidents. It was only when we put them together that we saw there was a bigger problem. They have increased sharply in the last six months." Automatic panic alarms have been fitted to vehicles so central control knows where they are if their radios have been stolen. Central locking is being considered. The West Midlands service, covering the Birmingham conurbation, is the largest outside London. It runs 130 front-line emergency vehicles.

In another incident last week on a Birmingham housing estate, ambulance crew members had to fight their way back to their vehicle after being attacked by a gang of youths, while attending a heart attack victim. Radios, drugs, medicine boxes and even cardiac monitors have been stolen from vehicles. "We have lost three or four cardiac monitors. They are worth about pounds 7,000. They are useless in the wrong hands, but they are dangerous because they deliver a high electric charge," Mr Seaward said.

In Manchester, ambulance crews have worn body armour since February to protect them from assault.