A THIEF stole money given to a charity that relies on public donations to survive.

A man went into the Coral bookmakers in Chippenham and checked the weight of all the collection boxes on the counter before helping himself to the heaviest, destined for the air ambulance appeal.

A police spokesman said: “Officers in Chippenham are asking for the public’s help to identify a man. At around 11am on Tuesday, February 18, a man entered Coral bookmakers and picked up each charity box before leaving with the heaviest.”

Lewis Ingram, the deputy manager at the Coral branch in New Road, said it was the first time anyone had stolen one of the charity boxes.

“It’s sickening,” he said. “There was probably quite a lot in there. It’s our most popular box, the air ambulance.

“There’s a gentleman who comes in every single day and puts in between £1 and £2.50 every time.

“It was when he went to put money in we noticed it wasn’t there.

“I’ve looked at the cameras myself. The manager had her back turned and he snatched it and walked to the toilet.

“We think maybe he intended to stash it in a cupboard in there and come back later, but there was someone in the toilet so he just stuck it in his pocket and left.”

Wiltshire Air Ambulance, which relies solely on donations to run the medical emergency service, attends an average of two to three potentially lifesaving missions each day. The speed of its helicopter in getting patients treated quickly often makes the difference between life and death for its passengers.

Police released two CCTV images of a man officers are keen to speak to in connection with the theft.

Anyone who recognises the man, or has any information, is being asked to contact PC Pete Fennell at Chippenham Police Station on 101.

Alternatively, they can call the Crimestoppers hotline, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.