POLICE support officers sparked an animal rescue attempt after spotting a deadly cobra wrapped round the handlebars of one of their bikes.

But the reptile which caused the alert turned out to be a rubber toy.

Before the error was spotted, the two officers had got as far as clearing the area, near Thorpe Bay Yacht Club in Eastern Esplanade, and even called for back up while the police control room contacted poisonous snake expert Iain Newby.

But as Mr Newby, owner of Dangerous Wild Animal Rescue Facility in Great Wakering, was en route to the incident, police called him back to say the snake was not real.

He said: “I grabbed all the kit I would need to protect myself from a venomous snake, including a snake hook and my snake stick, which I need to grab snakes to stop them biting.

“I spotted the officers beside the yacht club boat yard when they said it was a rubber model.”

Mr Newby said the toy was a replica of a cobra which could grow to more than 2m if real.

Mr Newby confirmed that, had it been the real thing, it would have been very dangerous.

He is often called upon by the emergency services and local authorities, but said the Sunday lunchtime incident was one of the funniest he had been involved in.

He added: “I must admit I laughed and asked if I could keep the snake.”

Despite seeing the funny side, he was full of praise for the action of the PCSOs.

He said: “More and more people are keeping things like this as pets, and it’s not impossible for them to get loose. So they did exactly the right thing while they were not sure what they were dealing with, as even rubber snakes are getting more and more accurate.”

One of the PCSOs, Tristan Adams, said: “We will always err on the side of caution when dealing with incidents such as this, which could potentially pose a significant threat to members of the public. It was only a very realistic replica snake, but I’d rather we over-reacted to a false alarm than ignored a real emergency.”