LIVES have been put at risk after a potentially life-saving piece of water safety equipment installed to prevent drownings was stolen.

The throwline at Pattinson South Pond near the River Wear, in Washington, was stolen and its casing smashed open during the attack.

Designed to be thrown to anyone who gets into difficulty in the water, the throwline was installed in February by Sunderland City Council and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service to prevent drownings.

The council is now appealing for anyone with information about the damage to contact police.

Washington East councillor and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority Chairman, Councillor Tony Taylor, said: "This was a completely senseless attack on a piece of equipment that is clearly designed to help save lives - it's difficult to believe how anyone could stoop so low.

"Their reckless behaviour has put lives at risk and they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.”

Councillor Linda Williams, Sunderland City Council’s Cabinet Member for Vibrant City, added: "Water safety is a priority for us. We’ve had a Water Safety Partnership since 2015 working to raise awareness of the dangers of swimming in open water, which makes an attack like this all the more upsetting.

"I would urge anyone with information that might help the culprits behind this appalling attack to contact the police on 101."

Richie Rickaby, Area Manager for Community Safety Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, said: "The Throw Line and Signage Boards are life-saving vital pieces of water safety equipment, in place to help keep our communities safe and to have one mindlessly damaged is extremely reckless and dangerous; which could put lives at risk.

"This particular Throw Line and Signage Board was only installed in February this year, the lock has been smashed and the throw line removed – neither have been found.

"In emergency situations minutes and seconds really do count, the throw line can provide lifesaving support to help anybody who finds themselves out of their depth in the water and enable vital time for emergency services to arrive and assist.

"Our control room staff have been trained to help talk 999 callers through the process of how to use a throw line so that their life isn’t put at risk by going into the water themselves.

"If anybody has any information on this mindless vandalism please report it to Northumbria Police."

Inspector Nick Gjorven, of Northumbria Police, said: "We are committed to tracing those responsible for this totally unnecessary act and take swift and appropriate action against them.

"We will continue to work with our partners to prevent and tackle this type of mindless offending."

The throwline was one of three installed on the banks of the River Wear at Washington following a series of tragic drownings over recent years.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Northumbria Police on 101.