Henderson Group, the community retailer which has enabled the installation of 220 external defibrillators across Northern Ireland, has made a joint appeal with the PSNI for members of the public to respect the vital devices as seasonal spirits soar this December.

In the past three years, SPAR, EUROSPAR and VIVO branded retailers in Northern Ireland have installed the 220 defibrillators outside their stores, providing vital, 24/7 access to these devices.

Unfortunately, since installation began there has been a rise in theft and mindless vandalism of the Automated External Defibrillators (AED), with several reported to the PSNI from various locations in the past few years.

With the festive season in to full gear, there has been a joint appeal from Henderson Group, who spearheaded the campaign for the installations here, and the PSNI.

Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said; “It is thoroughly disheartening that we are still receiving reports of thefts and vandalism of these crucial pieces of equipment.

“We know that some of the attacks and thefts are influenced by alcohol consumption and, as the festivities of Christmas get in to full gear, we are asking people to be considerate and respect the importance of having this life saving equipment on hand. I would ask you to think about this: what if it were a member of your family who needed a defibrillator and the closest available in your community was vandalised because of you? What if you needed it?

“It is a simple message: Leave them alone. You never know when cardiac arrest could strike and someone in your area will need that defibrillator.”

Bronagh Luke, Head of Corporate Marketing at the Henderson Group who launched the campaign back in 2015 added; “The ‘Heart of our Community’ campaign was a chance for retailers and the public to work together to raise £1,500 for the device, installation and the temperature-controlled cabinet for the defibrillator. They were also to be installed outside the store – a vital point of difference from other defibs – so they were easily accessed.

“Unfortunately, this has led to a spate of thefts and costly damage being caused by adults who should really know better. All we’re asking, especially in the run up to Christmas when spirits are high, is to treat them with the respect they deserve. They are life-saving pieces of equipment that have been installed for the whole community, don’t let one person’s actions ruin that for everyone.”

Since installation, six lives have been saved using defibrillators installed at the stores.

Bronagh continued; “This is exactly why it is so important to have the external defibrillators accessible to the public. Most of these cases happened outside of normal opening hours and they were used because the local people knew it was there.”

The Group has also worked with the British Heart Foundation and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to deliver CPR training sessions, and at this year’s Balmoral Show, successfully trained over 1,500 show goers in the basic CPR essentials.

Bronagh added; “The AEDs fitted at our stores are the most up-to-date technology and do not require a huge amount of human input, however it is vital that as many of us as possible are trained in CPR, as starting compressions is the first and most important action anyone can do if confronted with someone who has a cardiac arrest.”

As the Heart of our Community campaign continues, those wishing to get involved can visit www.heartofourcommunity.com or visit their local SPAR, EUROSPAR, VIVOXTRA, VIVO or VIVO Essentials store to donate.