WILTSHIRE Police has admitted they “got it wrong” after a 101 call-handler let a 17-year-old schoolgirl retrieve a stash of crack cocaine.

The drugs were found inside a white purse last month together with a number of bank cards in different names.

When the man who found the purse called it in to Wiltshire Police’s 101 non-emergency hotline he was told police were aware of the girl to whom the purse belonged.

The call handler said she would let the 17-year-old know about the found property. She retrieved it later that day from the shocked Good Samaritan who discovered the purse.

At the time Wiltshire Police told the Adver the matter was being looked into.

Now, the force seems to have acknowledged a mistake was made. In an email to South Swindon MP Robert Buckland, seen by the Adver, a senior staff member at the force said steps should have been taken to recover the purse.

“Unfortunately, on this occasion the police call handler got it wrong,” Wiltshire Police said.

“Whilst it is correct that we do not collect found property if there is any suggestion that the items are linked to crime then we should do so.

“The call made to us clearly falls into the latter category and we should have taken appropriate steps to recover the purse and establish if it contained stolen credit cards and drugs.”

The Adver understands the man who made the crack cocaine find has received an apology from a police control room inspector.

He said handing over the lost property to the 17-year-old had left him haunted: “What if this piece of evidence was a crucial piece of evidence that facilitated the eventual bringing to justice of a much larger and dangerous criminal network?

“I’m frustrated and haunted by what has happened. How will I feel if I see that person on a downward spiral – and possibly a terminal one?”

Robert Buckland, South Swindon MP said: “I was extremely disturbed by this case and would expect all such future seizures to be dealt with by the police as a criminal matter.”

A Wiltshire Police spokeswoman said the owner of the purse had been visited by officers and safeguarding measures put in place.

“We’ve spoken to the member of the public who reported this matter originally and this is being addressed with them locally," she said.

“The call handler involved has also been spoken to by their supervisor and has been given words of advice to ensure this does not happen again.

“The owner of the purse has been visited by officers – she is vulnerable and safeguarding measures have been put in place.

“As we have previously stated, we would always encourage people to report matters such as this to us so appropriate lines of enquiry can take place.”