Callous thieves are putting lives at risk by stealing public defibrillators from communities across Britain.
Hundreds of the life-saving devices have been installed in towns and villages to provide immediate first aid to heart attack victims.
But in recent weeks several have been ripped off the side of community halls and phone boxes.
Eight have been taken in the past three weeks alone around Bristol and others have been stolen recently in Surrey, Kent and Derby.
They cost around £1,500 and are normally paid for by charities or local fund-raising groups such as Rotary clubs.
It is believed the units are being stripped down and sold for spares, with many parts being advertised for sale on eBay.
Heart attack victim Keith Porter – whose life was saved by a community defibrillator – described the thefts as “disgusting”.
The 64-year-old, of Yate near Bristol, said: “These things save lives – they are easily accessible and easy to use.
“It is like taking water away – a life preserve.”
The defibrillators are sited in public places and intended to help anyone who suffers a heart attack nearby.
Users are directed to them after dialling 999 and then told how to use them on the casualty.
AED Locator, which runs a website showing where the defibrillators can be found, say there has been a sudden surge in thefts.
A spokesman said: “We have been looking after defibrillators for eight years but have never had this problem.
“Now eight have been stolen in just two to three weeks in Bristol alone.
“It appears to be the same approach where the thieves have broken into the cabinets.”
In Bristol they have been stolen from Frenchay village hall and sites in Pucklechurch, Easton and Fishponds.
Ray Care, chairman of Frenchay village hall, said: “It is disgusting that someone would come along and take life-saving equipment – and we’re not the only ones.
“We cannot see any reason why people want to take them.
“You have to emphasise the point that they are life-saving pieces of equipment. They are not going to be any good to anyone really.”
On New Year’s Day a defibrillator was stolen from Guildford ambulance station in Surrey as crews were out on an emergency call.
Local police branded the thief an “idiot” on Twitter and added: “Stupid behaviour that puts lives at risk.”
Two defibrillators were also stolen from Chipping Sodbury, Glos., over the Christmas period and another was taken from Otford station, Kent.
Last July a defibrillator was stolen from a pillar in Derby where a local church had raised #2,000 to buy it.
AED Locator added: “A second-hand AED has NO monetary value. Each defibrillator has a serial number and can always be traced.
“AEDs need constant daily and weekly checking and monitoring – without such monitored governance they may not operate correctly or at all if required to be used at the time of an emergency.”
The British Heart Foundation has funded 13,205 AEDs in the UK during the last 15 years.
No national body can confirm how many are established and working across the UK.
Avon and Somerset Police confirmed it is investigating the latest thefts around Bristol.