A schoolboy faces a lifelong criminal record after a police helicopter and riot van were scrambled to hunt him down – when he accidentally kicked a football at a greenhouse.
Tom Clarke, 15, was horrified when he miss-kicked the ball and it looped over a garden fence and smashed a greenhouse window pane.
Just 30 minutes later a police helicopter was spotted hovering above the house using thermal imaging cameras to search for him.
Two patrol cars and a riot van were also dispatched to search nearby gardens in Chalgrove, Oxon., on foot.
A pair of uniformed officers eventually tracked Tom down and he apologised to the greenhouse owner.
But days later Thames Valley Police sent a letter to Tom’s dad Darrin telling him his youngster had ”accepted responsibility for criminal damage”.
Police said the incident was not a conviction but would be ”recorded for future reference” and could count against him by future employers carrying out CRB checks.
Tom may now be considered unsuitable for jobs involving children and young people when he applies for work in the future.
The letter also warned Tom he could face an ASBO if his ”behaviour does not improve”.
Yesterday Tom’s furious dad, bus driver Darrin, 42, branded the police reaction ”extremely heavy-handed”.
He said: ”Tom is a good lad, he’s never been in trouble with the police or at school and he works hard.
”Now he’s been told his future work life is at risk because of a stupid accident playing football. It’s extremely heavy-handed.
”The police helicopter was about 20ft above the ground and I saw a riot van circling the area along with two patrol cars.
”It was like something out of the Keystone Cops.”
Tom was playing football with his cousin in the back garden of the Crown pub in Chalgrove on May 8 when he miss-kicked the ball.
At 5.40pm the owner of the greenhouse, Bobby Cellar, 67, called police and officers logged the complaint as ”criminal damage”.
At 6.10pm police chiefs directed the force helicopter to the scene while another two patrol cars joined the search on the ground.
A riot van was also dispatched to the village to deal with the incident.
Aston Villa fan Tom said: ”My cousin passed me the ball and I stuck my foot out, the ball spun off my ankle.
”The ball flew over the fence and hit the greenhouse.
”I was really shocked and didn’t know what to do so walked into the pub to watch the football on TV.
”A few minutes later two police officers walked into the pub and got me by the arm and led me out the pub.
”They told me they ‘wanted a word’ with me and said I’d been accused of criminal damage.
”I apologised and my dad offered to pay for the damage.
”I’m gutted it’s going to be on my record, I had thought about being a teacher when I’m older but that might not happen now.”
Staff and customers at the pub branded the police response ”ridiculous”.
Manager Emma Arnold said: ”Since when did a youngster accidentally kicking a ball into a greenhouse become criminal damage? It is ridiculous.”
Villager Doug Coles, 65, added: ”It was one of the silliest things I have ever seen.
”The ball clipped his foot, looped over the fence and hit the greenhouse.
”He couldn’t do that if he tried. Accidents happen in life.”
Thames Valley Police defended the use of the helicopter, saying it was in the area at the time.
Spokeswoman Rebecca Webber said: ”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.”
But Mrs Cellar, 67, said she was happy to see ”justice done”.
She said: ”I’ve had enough. Someone could have been in the greenhouse at the time and got hurt.
”In my mind it’s criminal damage and that’s the law, I just wanted to see justice done.”