A VITAL mini-bus used by patients at Wirral Hospice St John's has been taken off the road after its catalytic converter was stolen.

The device will cost more than £1,000 to replace and the vehicle will be out of action for several days.

Elaine Pugh, hospice outpatients services manager, said: "It's disgusting that someone would do this."

The theft came to light on Tuesday as the mini-bus driver collected patients coming in for medical assessment.

He noticed something was wrong with the way the vehicle was handling and took it to a local garage to be checked out.

Mechanics immediately spotted the converter had been removed.

The part, which controls exhaust emissions, will cost £1,200 to replace.

A night watchman on duty at the hospice on Monday spotted a man "lurking" by the vehicle, but when he went to investigate the suspect ran off.

Now the hospice is asking anyone working in local garages to be aware of people asking for catalytic converters to be fitted as it could be related to the incident.

Outpatients manager Ms Pugh said: "Our patient mini-bus is a lifeline to patients who are critically ill and need to access the hospice for care and support.

"I can't believe someone would stoop so low as to steal from a hospice without any thought to the impact and upheaval their theft would cause.

"It's heartbreaking."

Police are investigating the theft.

Neighbourhood Sergeant Jim Steel said: "I find it very difficult to comprehend how anyone could stoop so low as to steal things from a hospice.

"The mini-bus is used to help transport staff and patients and I'm sure the whole community in Bebington will share my desire to see the person or people responsible brought before the courts.

"I'd urge anyone who has seen anything suspicious in the area since Friday night, or has any other information, to get in touch with us.

"The information may seem trivial, but it could help us identify the person or people responsible for this deplorable crime."

Anyone with information should call police on 0151 777 2546 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.