TWO teenagers who found a five-year-old girl asleep in the back of a stolen car and kept her safe until police arrived told last night of their horror at being arrested and locked up for four hours.

Officers did not believe Tyler Thompson and Connor Roderick’s version of events, and the pair were taken into custody, and had their DNA and fingerprints taken, which will now be stored on a national database.

Their clothes were also kept by police following the incident in St Helen Auckland, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, on Friday, December 9, and the teenagers were only due to get them back yesterday.

Durham Police said officers dealt with the situation using the information they had at the time, and were following procedure.

Tyler, 16, was on his way to buy milk for his grandfather with Connor, 18, at about 10.15pm when they found the abandoned red Skoda Fabia still with the engine running.

It had been stolen from outside the Royal Chef Chinese takeaway in nearby Manor Road.

The driver had left his keys in the ignition while he went into the takeaway, and three youths were spotted driving the car away, shortly after 10pm.

Tyler and Connor recognised the car, so Connor ran off to find the owner, while Tyler, who spotted the girl on the back seat, stayed behind to guard the vehicle.

Connor then brought the police and the girl’s father to the car, but officers failed to believe their story and arrested them.

“We couldn’t believe what was happening,” said Tyler. “We hadn’t done anything wrong. We thought we were doing the right thing but the police just didn’t believe us. We were gutted.

“If we had left that car, I never would have been able to forgive myself if something had happened to that girl.”

Tyler and Connor were held until 3am when they were released without charge.

Tyler, who has taken part in police projects as a member of Bishop Auckland Theatre Hooligans drama group, added: “We were kept in a cell for doing something good.

We felt like criminals.”

The best friends, who have never been in trouble with the police, said they would now think twice before doing a good thing for fear of getting into trouble.

“We have had strangers coming up in the street asking us why we did it,” said Connor. “Everyone in the village has been talking about it. It has been horrible.”

With the support of their families, Tyler and Connor plan to submit a complaint to police about the incident.

A Durham Police spokesperson said: “Police arrested a man and a youth at the scene of the incident as they matched a description given to police; they were later released without charge.

“The suspects were dealt with as quickly as procedures allow while ensuring that the matter was thoroughly investigated.

“Two other youths have been arrested in connection with this incident and bailed pending further inquiries.”

Any witnesses are asked to call Durham Police on the new nonemergency number 101.