Gazza among sports stars backing appeal to find disabled teenager's stolen speech computer

The stolen computer belonged to 16-year-old Miya Thirlby Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire

Celebrities and sports stars, including football legend Paul Gascoigne, have backed an appeal to help a disabled teenager after thieves stole the computer that allows her to communicate.

The device belonged to 16-year-old Miya Thirlby, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy which has meant she cannot talk.

A donation by Gazza, along with his message of support, helped push an online campaign raising funds for a new device to hit its £6,000 target within hours of getting started.

The former footballer pledged funds in a tweet, saying: "I'll donate a £1000 now towards a new one for ya, get in touch wiv us Love GAZZA xxxx."

Paul Gascoigne's support helped raised funds for a new device Credit: PA

There were also calls for thieves to return the device, with Alan Shearer writing on Twitter: "Come on man. Do the decent thing and please somehow get the machine back to this little girl."

His message was re-tweeted by Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and ITV Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan, among others.

The computer is important to Miya, whose uses the £5,700 Accent 1400 with software to generate speech from images she looks at.

The family has been desperate to get back the machine, which was stolen from the family car in Plymouth, because it has been specially adapted for her eyes.

Miya Thirlby (left) with her mum Kerrie and twin Macie Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire

The appeal by her father, Paul Johnson, was picked up by Shearer, Gazza, Andy Murray and others on Twitter and quickly went viral.

Mr Johnson, 40 and a Newcastle United fan, said the reaction to his tweet had been "nuts".

"It's quite overwhelming," he said. "It restores your faith in human nature."

He said the thieves may have thought they were stealing a normal computer because it was kept in a laptop bag.

The computer and software generates speech from the images at which Miya (right) is looking Credit: Family Handout/PA Wire

The machine has pictures of Miya's father, mother Kerrie Thirlby and her twin Macie, and it says their names if Miya looks at the images.

Mr Johnson urged anyone who might know where it is to hand it in to a responsible person.

The online fundraiser for a new device was started by a well-wisher.

Mr Johnson had initially hoped it would be unnecessary as he had hoped the equipment would be returned.

Earlier, he said: "Plymouth is not that big and word has spread so I am pretty sure the people who did this will know by now.

"It's looking doubtful we will get it back but you never know."