JOYRIDERS who stole an ambulance while paramedics were treating the victim of an assault have been accused of risking lives.

The vehicle was taken in the early hours of Sunday while it was parked outside a house in Wynyard Road, Hartlepool.

After a search that included the Cleveland Police helicopter and the North East Ambulance Service’s (NEAS) control room tracking system, it was found 20 minutes later.

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The thieves had abandoned the vehicle, with its lights flashing and its equipment intact, in the middle of nearby Monach Road.

Ambulance bosses and police chiefs say that although the victim only required treatment at the scene, it took an emergency vehicle off the road and endangered lives.

Acting Inspector Gary Cowan, of Hartlepool police, said: “The lowest of crimes has left an ambulance off the road. It could have left people in a dangerous situation with no emergency service to attend.

“Whoever did this probably saw it as a prank but, at the end of the day, this was taking a vehicle without consent, which could have cost people’s lives.

“It was dumped in the middle of the road and looked like it had been taken for a joyride.

“We urge anyone with information about this theft to call us due to the fact this took both emergency services off the road for some considerable time.

“It left Hartlepool without an ambulance.

“Thankfully, the victim was not going with the paramedics – she was treated at the scene, but this meant the ambulance was not available for anyone else.”

An NEAS spokesman said it was thought that paramedics were inside the house and police officers noticed the ambulance was not there.

He added: “If this patient was in a more serious state and treatment was delayed – these people do not know the seriousness of their actions.”

Anyone with information about the incident, which happened at about 1.40am on Sunday, is asked to call PC Kevin Stones, of Hartlepool police, on 01642-302126, or Crimestoppers, on 0800-555-111.