POLICE have been accused of wasting money after sending a helicopter to catch men suspected of tampering with a fruit machine.

The chief constable of Essex recently warned budget cuts could mean hundreds of people loosing their jobs, yet the helicopter, which it is believed costs more than £2,000 for each call-out, was used to help search for two men suspected of attempted theft from a fruit machine at the Madison Heights leisure complex in Park Drive, Maldon.

One man had already been detained by staff at the complex, but two others ran off.

Two men were later arrested by police at Promenade Park.

Fiona McEvoy, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said using a helicopter is a costly option which should be reserved for incidents where the public are at risk.

She said: “Now, more than ever, it is vital police resources are used appropriately and proportionately. In this instance, scrambling a police helicopter seems excessive.

“The force just can’t afford to be so heavy-handed.”

A spokeswoman for Essex Police said the control room looks at each incident and allocates appropriate resources.

Between April and June the helicopter, which is shared between Essex Police and Kent Police, made 126 flights and was called to 292 incidents in Essex, many while already in the air.