A MUM held in a police cell for five hours for refusing to hand back a £3.99 cricket ball will not face a theft charge.

Prosecutors have admitted that Lorretta Cole, who all along insisted she kept the ball to teach local children a lesson, was not acting dishonestly.

But police chiefs have come under fire for overreacting and using spin to justify their actions at taxpayers’ expense.

The Daily Echo can reveal that a press officer went to Mrs Cole’s home to agree a media statement – effectively clearing police of any blame.

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Justice and taxpayers’ campaigners slammed the move. Fiona McEvoy, from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, dubbed the situation “bizarre” and questioned the use of police time.

She said: “The public pay their taxes for police officers and equipment, not press officers to interview offenders.

“This smacks of spin which is not a priority when police budgets are facing real pressure.”

Big Brother Watch director Alex Deane said police had now made matters worse by putting words into Mrs Cole’s mouth.

He said: “I’m stunned to here that the police brought their own press officer to someone’s home. The police preparing a statement for a suspect is the stuff of East German show trials – not democratic Britain.”

Hampshire police insisted they helped Mrs Cole make a statement because she had been overwhelmed by media interest after her arrest.

Spokesman Alan Smith said: “Because we deal with the media on a daily basis Mrs Cole was happy for us to make a statement on her behalf.”

As revealed by the Daily Echo, fed-up Mrs Cole, 47, confiscated the cricket ball after it continually came into her garden and on one occasion allegedly damaged her car.

The children’s father, Andrew Cocking, who lives three doors away from the Coles in Baddesley Close, North Baddesley, called the police after she refused to hand it back.

Mrs Cole was held at Lyndhurst station for five hours before being released on bail but the CPS has decided not to charge her because it accepted she was not stealing the ball.

Mrs Cole was not available for comment because she was abroad. But her husband Roger insisted she would do it again if necessary. He said: “We are not surprised the CPS has dropped the case. It was the outcome we had expected. The police overreacted. Sending three officers to arrest Lorretta was just crazy.”

Hampshire police said they had a duty to investigate all alleged offences and that Mrs Cole’s “robust stance” in withholding the ball left them no option but to arrest her.

In the statement released by Hampshire police they quoted Mrs Cole as saying: "I think this whole thing has been blown out of all proportion but I believe the action taken at the time were appropriate and proportionate.

It was never my intention to keep the cricket ball and permanently deprive, but, I had to make a stand, enough is enough! I was not happy at being arrested but I now understand why it was necessary for the police to do that. I also recognise that children have to play somewhere and they are not always aware of the impact their play can have on others. Maybe we have all learnt something from this.

I now want to put all this behind me and carry on living happily once more within my community."