Stranded without money after a night out drinking, a childless couple pretended their three-year-old daughter had gone missing so they could get a lift home.
But the plan badly backfired when their well-meaning driver called the police, sparking a major search and rescue operation lasting hours, and involving more than 40 officers and volunteers.
Dozens of police officers were drafted in after the pair, from Hull, reported the imaginary girl had gone missing following a day out to the beach in Hornsea, East Yorkshire.
A major hunt was launched and volunteers from Hornsea Inshore Rescue were alerted.
It was only a few hours into the search that police realised the couple, who do not even have a child, had been drinking and just wanted a free lift home.
Their hoax, on July 5, is believed to have left the taxpayer with a bill for thousands of pounds.
Sue Hickson-Marsay, chairman of Hornsea Inshore Rescue, an independent organisation, said: 'It’s an awful waste of time, money and effort.
'We’re an independent organisation and it costs us £40,000 every year to run, so hoaxes are very frustrating.'
Police were alerted after the couple approached a man in Hornsea and asked to be driven back to Hull.
They told the man that their three-year-old daughter had gone missing had been advised by police to return home.
But instead of driving them to the city, the man took them to his house and contacted police, sparking a huge search for the little girl.
Their deception was uncovered when a taxi driver, who had originally taken the couple to the seaside resort, revealed they had not been with a child.
'The mentality of these people, who made up a hoax, beggars belief'
A post by the North Holderness neighbourhood policing team on the Humberside Police website said the hoax had diverted 'precious and finite police resources' from genuine calls.
It 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.
"Realizing 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.
'It transpired the couple did not actually have any children, probably a
blessed relief as you could hardly call them fit and proper parents.'
The woman admitted wasting police time and accepted a caution.
Hornsea Inshore Rescue had also sent a team of volunteers to help with the search for the little girl.
'The call activated our emergency action plan. It costs us money to activate pagers and radios.
'We started the engines on the boats and although they weren’t sent out because the police informed us it was a hoax, all of this cost us valuable time and money.
'Our workers are volunteers, they’re giving up their time to help and when it turns out to be a hoax call, it’s very disappointing and disheartening.
'I hope that this serves as a warning to others.'
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of a 36-year-old man charged with wasting police time after he failed to appear at Beverley