A policeman jumped into the River Itchen at Winchester to arrest a drugs dealer and then - despite spraining an ankle - risked his safety to battle strong currents to retrieve discarded cocaine.

PC Kevin Morley's actions were mentioned at the sentencing of Ben Marsh, who has started an 18-month jail sentence for peddling cannabis and ecstasy in Winchester.

Marsh (23), of Longfield Road, Winnall, Winchester, admitted five charges of possession with intent: two for herbal cannabis, two ecstasy, and one for cannabis resin. He works for the Environment Agency.

Winchester Crown Court heard that police were alerted to his dealing when he made the mistake of leaving his rucksack in the Old Gaolhouse pub in Jewry Street on July 1st, said Janice Brennan, prosecuting.

The manager saw cannabis resin, weighing 134 grammes with a street value of about £670, and called the police. But Marsh returned and took his bag before he could be arrested. On July 19th, he was arrested in Jewry Street with 72g of cannabis, worth between £560 and £704, and 32 ecstasy tablets and five capsules, valued at about £10 each.

He was with a young woman, Gemma Howlett, who tried to get rid of the rucksack and was also arrested, said Miss Brennan. The couple have since married.

The incident in the river on Water Lane took place on August 30th.

Miss Brennan said: "PC Morley bravely jumped in and arrested the defendant. He asked a member of the public to assist by holding the defendant while he attempted to retrieve the drugs that had been discarded.

"He managed to grab hold of a small quantity but was in danger of being swept away and abandoned the rescue. Your Honour may take the view he went beyond his duty as a police officer."

Marsh denied possessing cocaine with intent and as the drug was diluted by the river and the police could not be certain of the quantity, his plea was accepted. The judge ordered it lie on the file.

Michael Sullivan, defending, said Marsh was an intelligent man with five A-levels. But he had abused drugs for years and that "undermined all efforts he has made to make a positive contribution and lead a normal life."

Sentencing, Judge Keith Cutler said: "It is sad to find a young man with such ability and able to put something positive into society having to plead guilty to these serious offences."

The judge too praised the 'commendable' actions of PC Morley. As reported in the Hampshire Chronicle last month, the constable, who is stationed at North Walls, received a chief constable's commendation for his actions.

Speaking after the case PC Morley (26) said: "I knew Marsh was suspected of dealing. I saw him coming out of the Mash Tun pub and stopped him for a search. He legged it. He ran towards the river and climbed onto railings. I caught him but couldn't hold him. He broke away and jumped ten feet into the water.

"I was stood above him watching him taking stuff out of his rucksack and discarding it in the river. I could see lots of clear plastic bags and silver foil wraps floating away.

"So I jumped in, grabbed him and as much of the drugs as I could. I dragged him to the side, cuffed him and asked a passer-by to look after him.

"Then I jumped back in to swim after the drugs.

"I stopped to pick the drugs up and the current was dragging me back towards the weir and the City Mill. The water must have been five feet deep. I had to stop although I wanted to get a few more. But I didn't think I would have got them before getting stuck in the weir.

"I wouldn't say I was brave. All my colleagues would have done the same," said PC Morley.