THIEVES steal charity cash box from a Sunderland RNLI beach unit.
They broke into a mobile unit in Marine Walk, opposite Roker Beach, after smashing windows at the site.
Family friends of schoolboy Mark Langton, who was tragically swept out to sea six years ago, today labelled the theft “a disgrace”.
RNLI volunteers battled to save the 13-year-old but he was later pronounced dead at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Margaret Moan, 68, who is a close friend of Mark’s family and has helped raise £5,000 for the RNLI, said: “I think it’s a disgrace.”
Mrs Moan, from Hendon, added: “They are taking money from people that are trying to help others and it’s just not on.
“I can’t believe that some people would do that and Mark’s family will be really upset by it because we are raising money to help the RNLI.”
The thieves were disturbed before running off with the box, which was later found empty near where the building was broken into.
As the charity boxes are security sealed, it is not yet known exactly how much was taken.
The charity said it is “devastated” that it has been targeted.
No lifeguard or lifeboat crew equipment was left in the mobile unit.
Lifeguard supervisor Gavin Hughes, 24, of Castletown, who has volunteered with the RNLI for four years, said: “It’s not ideal when we finish the season then come in to find out a unit has been broken into and donations from the Sunderland public have been stolen.
“There are a lot of volunteers and the RNLI is a charity so when donations are given and then taken away by someone it’s not a great thing for the city.”
An RNLI spokeswoman said it relies on donations to carry out its life-saving work, with its lifeboat crews being manned by volunteers who give up their time to answer vital call-outs.
“It is hard to understand why thieves would target our lifeguard unit.
“As a charity, the RNLI relies on public donations to pay for our life-saving equipment and we were devastated to discover the theft.”
The RNLI lifeguard season finished at Roker beach on Sunday and the mobile unit has now been taken away from the beach and put into storage.
The break-in took place sometime between 6pm on Saturday and 8am on Monday.
Anyone with any information should phone police on 101 ex 69191 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.