WHEN he picked up a cuddly toy from a rubbish heap to play a game with his dog, Kevin Blunden had no idea of the chaos it would cause.

Hours later, armed officers and a helicopter swooped on a field – convinced that a live tiger was on the loose in the Hampshire countryside.

The nearby golf course was evacuated, a game at the Rose Bowl cricket ground was temporarily abandoned and emergency services put in place plans to close part of the M27 in case the ‘beast’ spotted near Charles Watts Way, Hedge End, wandered on to the motorway.

Now Mr Blunden, 53, from Exford Drive, Harefield, has admitted it was him that inadvertently sparked the massive police operation after picking up the abandoned toy from a derelict garage to play a game with his five-year-old border collie-cross Saski.

He said: “I was walking past some derelict garages where people dump rubbish and saw that in there, with some loft insulation, was this tiger.

“I thought it would be fun to play with my dog with it, so I drove down to the field in Hedge End.

“I was chucking it around and she was sniffing it and running away again.

“I was out there for some time, but got bored after a while and just left it there. I didn’t think any more about it.”

The father-of-three has since been hailed a hero on an Internet group called “The Legend who put a Stuffed Toy Tiger in Hedge End”, which has attracted more than 9,000 members.

Reports about the cuddly toy have gone round the globe and the story was even featured on BBC comedy panel show Have I Got News For You.

But Mr Blunden says he’s ‘embarrassed’ about what happened and thinks the police response was over the top.

He said: “When I saw it on the rubbish pile, I didn’t think ‘oh my God, that’s a real Siberian tiger’.

“They could have just thrown a stone or a stick at it to see if it moved – you could see it wasn’t real.

“When I heard what had happened I was terrified that I was going to get in trouble for it. I went round to some friends for a barbecue this weekend and all of them were saying, ‘you’re a legend’ as though I was some kind of hero.

“I find it quite embarrassing actually.”

Hampshire Police say the tiger is still in one of their found property stores since it was recovered on May 21.

A spokesman said: “We have to retain it for six weeks before we can do anything with it.

“Until that period of time has elapsed, we cannot confirm what will happen to the toy.”

Police were last night unable to confirm whether any further action would be taken against Mr Blunden.