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You'll kill someone.

Byline: Mike Blackburn

VANDALS have been blasted for their "sheer stupidity" in stealing lifebuoys from the banks of the River Tees.

With the school holidays about to start, British Waterways is already struggling to replace missing life rings in Thornaby.

River manager Alan Slater said: "It is sheer stupidity. If someone died because of the actions of these vandals is it reasonable the crime is just covered under vandalism? Could you argue it would be manslaughter?"

Last week the agency replaced six life rings in front of Dunedin House on Teesdale. But just days later three had been stolen.

Now river chiefs plan to ask local businesses to store rings inside their buildings to reduce the chance of theft.

Every year British Waterways invests thousands of pounds in making the banks of the Tees safe. But every year they are forced to replace up to 150 stolen lifebuoys, at an annual cost of around pounds 8,000.

The tragic consequences of the theft and vandalism were highlighted by the Gazette in June 2004 when 49-year-old Camelia McDonough, of Norton, drowned in the river. Horrified onlookers who saw her struggling near Victoria Bridge were unable to help because all the lifesaving rings were missing.

British Waterways regularly checks all its lifebuoys as a priority and replaces any damaged, stolen or destroyed.

But the agency confirmed it has difficulty in ensuring lifebuoys are always available. Mr Slater said: "If we had a life ring inside business premises it improves the likelihood of the ring not being stolen, and these buildings are usually always manned."

But he called for better policing of the riverbanks and urged the public to report anyone stealing or damaging lifebuoys.

"Sometimes they cut the ropes and throw the life ring in the river. If we can fish it out we can reuse it," he said.

"But often when they remove the ring they rip the doors off and damage the casing as well. To replace the life ring and its box costs pounds 400 a time."

Mr Slater said not all life rings are the responsibility of British Waterways. "There are other private landowners who haven't replaced their life rings in years," he said.

Stockton photographer Allan Brooks was disgusted to discover three empty lifebuoy cases in a row on a riverside walk in Teesdale. He said: "The kids are about to start their summer holidays, and right along the river numerous lifebelts are missing."
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jul 17, 2007
Words:407
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