A POLISH family cut off by the high tide at the foot of one of Britain's highest sea cliffs was unaware of the 999 emergency service, it has emerged.

Instead, the man, aged 41, a woman, aged 39, and a ten-year-old girl, who live in Darlington, called an English friend on a mobile phone for help.

The friend, from Woodham, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, rang Cleveland Police, which in turn alerted the Coastguard, to warn them the family were stranded in the dark at the foot of the 365ft Huntcliff, near Saltburn, east Cleveland.

But rescue workers are still puzzled as to why the three waited until after 10.30pm on Sunday to summon help -six hours after they became cut off by the tide.

Police were sent to the scene and the force helicopter was scrambled to use its searchlight to help rescuers.

Both Redcar RNLI lifeboats were sent to the base of the sea cliff.

The Atlantic 75 class lifeboat was run in towards the water's edge and two crew members put ashore.

They helped the family into lifejackets and then the smaller lifeboat picked up the trio and took them to Saltburn, where an ambulance was waiting.

Lifeboat helmsman Tony Wild said: "They were very cold when we found them, and as soon as they were landed ashore, the ambulance crew took over."

Dave Cocks, Redcar RNLI's deputy launching authority, said: "We are a bit puzzled why they waited so long before calling for help. They were lucky they were able to get a mobile phone signal so close to the cliffs, otherwise their predicament could have been much worse.

"As it was, they were suffering from mild hypothermia and if they had had to wait until daylight, they may well have been severely affected by the cold.

"If they were cut off from 4pm, that is a good couple of hours before high tide and when it would have been easier to have rescued them.

"Why they did not do something at 4pm, I really do not know.

"My understanding is they were dressed in nothing but T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, so they would have had a cold night if they been there all night."