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Father arrested for refusing to give back boys' ball

JAMES TOZER / The Daily Mail | September 4 2006

When children playing in his street kicked their football through his hedge for the umpteenth time, Alastair Wood decided enough was enough.

Not only could they not have their ball back, but he was going to keep it until he received an apology.

To his astonishment, however, the 40-year-old father-of-two found himself arrested in his pyjamas, handcuffed and bundled into the back of a police car in front of his wife and crying daughter after being accused of theft.

Yesterday he said: "The whole incident is absolutely beyond belief - words can't describe how ridiculous it all is.

"It’s totally changed my attitude towards the police. I just don’t have any confidence in them any more."

Construction manager Mr Wood and his wife Joanne, 37, moved into the street in Preston, Lancashire, hoping for a safe neighbourhood in which to raise their children, Liam, 16, and Ellie, six.

But instead he claims they have repeatedly had to endure children kicking footballs through their hedge and into their garden.

"There have been occasions when my wife has been doing our front garden and she's been smacked in the face with a leather football," he added. Matters came to a head when he came across brothers aged 18 and nine scrambling through his hedge trying to retrieve their football.

"One of them asked me if I could get his ball back out of the hedge," he said. "He had been climbing all over the hedge to reach the ball, so I got hold of it and carried on walking up the pathway.

"The youngest child then started having a tantrum and started screaming and shouting that he wanted his ball back.

"I just thought if he can't ask for the ball back politely, then he's not going to get it back at all. So I put the ball in the house and thought nothing more of it."

Mr Wood claims the boys' father, Stephen Burns - who works for the Crown Prosecution Service - came round to confront him, leaving him so worried that he rang the police.

Two days later a community support officer called round and urged him to return the ball, saying it could technically be treated as theft, but Mr Wood said he would not back down until he received an apology.

At that point he expected common sense to prevail - but instead the day after a Pc came round and threatened to arrest him on his doorstep on suspicion of theft if he did not back down.

"I said 'Look, we've been through this, I'm not going to give the ball back unless I get an apology'."

So he faced the humiliation of being handcuffed and marched to a patrol car in front of his neighbours while his daughter looked on in tears. But events turned into a farce as the officer decided not to take him to the station but instead drove him to the nearby church hall and instructed him to thrash it out with his local councillor - still in his pyjamas and dressing gown.

"I think the police realised that they had no power to keep me detained so they'd scored an own goal, so to speak," he said.

Finally, Mr Wood decided things had gone far enough and returned the football to Mr Burns, receiving "a sort of apology".

"He told me he's going to be sending the kids to a park to play football instead, so that's some progress I suppose."

Mr Burns said yesterday he had had no contact with the police and did not know anything about his neighbour's arrest.

But he added: "If you don't return someone's property, I would have thought it was perfectly right under English law to be arrested for theft."

Lancashire Police said they had been called to deal with a dispute between neighbours.

"One man was arrested when he refused to return a football," a spokesman said. "After talks with the arresting officer he agreed to return the ball and apologised.

"He was then de-arrested and the matter appeared resolved."

Earlier this year the Daily Mail told how 68-year-old Roy Markham, from Cubbington, Warwickshire, was arrested for theft after a football from his police sergeant neighbour Stewart Bosworth's garden smashed into his greenhouse.

Warwickshire Police are investigating after Mr Markham complained about his treatment. Last night Mr Wood said he was considering following suit.

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