Police helicopter used in broken window hunt

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The Independent Online

Police have defended themselves amid claims of heavy-handedness after using a helicopter and two officers to find a schoolboy who kicked a football through a greenhouse.

Tom Clarke, 15, was playing in a pub garden in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire, when a miskick sent the ball over a fence and into a glass pane next door.

Moments later a police helicopter which was flying in the area was spotted by an officer on the ground and asked to help find the culprit after the incident was reported by the greenhouse owner.

Tom apologised to the owner and will pay for the damage, according to Thames Valley Police who said the case was treated as criminal damage.

No arrests were made and no caution was issued but police said that any crime recorded could be used in an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check if relevant to the job applied for.

Tom's father, Darrin Clarke, 42, accused officers of being heavy-handed, telling reporters that his son's "future work life is at risk because of a stupid accident playing football".

The TaxPayers' Alliance also questioned the appropriateness of the resources used.

Campaign director Emma Boon said: "With huge pressures on the police budgets there must be a more proportionate response to incidents like this.

"A kid accidentally kicking a football through a window should be a matter that neighbours can quietly resolve between them. It's sad that this was not the case in this instance."

Police said they would not scramble their helicopter for low-level crimes but that it may be asked to help by officers on the ground if already airborne nearby.

A police spokesman said: "Thames Valley Police were called by a member of the public at about 5.40pm on May 8, who reported her greenhouse had been damaged by youths playing football in the pub garden next door.

"Two officers were dispatched to the incident and started searching for the youth responsible. At the time, the force helicopter was flying over Chalgrove, returning from an incident in Stokenchurch.

"As the helicopter was overhead, the officer on the ground asked the crew to do one sweep of the area to try and locate the youth responsible for the damage.

"Meanwhile, one of the officers found the youth, and the helicopter flew back to RAF Benson where it had been originally heading.

"The matter has been crimed as a criminal damage and the youth involved has apologised to the owner of the greenhouse and will pay for the damage.

"Thames Valley Police works with limited resources and must ensure these are used appropriately. On this occasion, the crime had just occurred, therefore two officers were sent to deal with it.

"Thames Valley Police would not deploy the force helicopter for low-level crimes such as criminal damage. However, if the helicopter is already airborne and in the area they may be asked to assist by officers on the ground, as happened in this case.

"Any criminal activity or intelligence held by the police can be used in an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau disclosure if it is relevant to the nature of the employment applied for.

"It would be extremely unlikely for Thames Valley Police to release the details of this incident in any CRB check and we will be reviewing the contents of template letters issued by our Youth Justice department in light of this."