Officers who flooded Newcastle City Centre yesterday after reports of a missing child have been praised by senior detectives - despite the call turning out to be a hoax.
The drama started to unfold at 2.35pm when police received a call from staff at Primark on Northumberland Street.
Officers were told how they had spoken to a 15-year-old girl in the store who said she had lost her 13-month-old sister.
A multi-agency search operation was immediately launched with an emergency bulletin being sent to all businesses in Eldon Square by security staff at Intu.
Police officers flooded Northumberland Street and police cars were stationed at both ends to prevent the child from leaving the area.
A member of the city centre neighbourhood policing team was deployed to review all CCTV of the surrounding area and soon the picture began to become clearer.
Images showed that the teenager had been walking around the city centre alone – and not in the company of a child - in the hour before the report.
Newcastle City Centre Chief Inspector, Dave Pickett, said: "At a very early stage we had doubts about what we were being told by the girl but we had to treat this as a genuine report.
"A missing child, particularly one as young as reported, is one of those calls that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
"We don't want to take any chances and so we very quickly had officers all over the city centre, searching shops, talking to partners and liaising with transport providers."
An hour of frantic searching passed before an officer was able to contact the father of the teenager who had made the initial report.
It was only then that it emerged that the teenager did not have a sister and had made a false report to staff at Primark.
Upon speaking to staff at the shop, it emerged they had confronted the girl about suspected shoplifting in the moments before she told them about the missing toddler.
Units across the city centre were stood down and the teenager was taken to a nearby police station to be interviewed.
She has since been referred to the youth offending team who will deal with her for wasting police time. The teen denied shoplifting and no further action will be taken by police on that matter.
Chief Inspector Pickett has today praised officers, staff, partners and the public for the way they responded to the report.
He added: "When we found out that our suspicions were confirmed and that it was a false report, the first emotion that comes to you is one of relief.
"Our priority is the safety of the public and it is only right that we respond as if it were a genuine missing person report even if we have doubts early on.
"I was immensely impressed with the response of the officers involved and the way they worked closely with the local authority and security staff at Eldon Square.
"These types of operations are only successful if we all work together and this isn't the first time that we have sprung into action so effectively.
"I also want to pay special mention to those members of the public who were quick to offer us assistance and report any sightings to our officers.
"The teenager in the middle of this knows she has done wrong and has shown remorse. She will now be dealt with by the Youth Offending Team.
"We are glad this incident was brought to a safe conclusion and I hope the public are reassured by the way our officers responded to the report."