An English couple sparked an major search operation after claiming their three-year-old daughter had gone missing in order to get a lift home.

Dozens of police officers were drafted in after the pair reported the girl missing from the beach during a day trip to Hornsea, East Yorkshire.

A major hunt involving more than 40 police officers and search teams from Humberside Fire and Rescue, Humber Coastguard and volunteers from Hornsea Inshore Rescue was launched.

However, it later emerged the couple, who do not even have a child, had been drinking heavily and wanted a free lift home.

Their hoax is believed to have left the taxpayer with a bill for thousands of pounds.

One officer said: “The police resources that were put into it were astronomical. Almost every police officer that was available in the East Riding was sent to Hornsea.”

Their deception was uncovered when a taxi driver, who had taken the couple from Orchard Park in Hull to the seaside town, revealed they had not been with a child.

During the operation, the region’s hospitals were contacted and checks were made with social services.

The officer in charge of the search also requested the police and RAF helicopters be deployed.

The officer said: “It is staggering that they behaved in this way.

“The whole thing was treated really seriously, especially because of the length of time they said had passed since they saw her. We were very concerned.”

Police were alerted after the couple approached a member of the public in Hornsea asking to be driven back to Hull. They told the man their three-year-old daughter had gone missing and they had been advised by police to return home.

Instead of driving them to the city, the man took them to his house and contacted police.

A post by the North Holderness neighbourhood policing team on the Humberside Police website said: “After a number of hours, evidence from the taxi company who conveyed the couple suggested they’d travelled to Hornsea without a child.

“When confronted with this evidence, they admitted they’d travelled from Orchard Park estate to Hornsea in a taxi and spent their remaining money drinking in town. Realising they had insufficient funds to get home, they made up the story about the missing child in the hope it would get them a free lift home courtesy of ourselves. The mentality of these people beggars belief, diverting precious and finite police resources away from areas where there may well have been a genuine need for them.”

The woman admitted wasting police time and accepted a caution.

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of a 36-year-old man who has been charged with wasting police time after he failed to appear at Beverley Magistrates’ Court.

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