CAMPAIGNERS are calling for police to be given a massive funding boost after traders who caught a suspected thief were forced to let him go.

Members of the New Forest business community sprang into action after discovering that a briefcase had been stolen from a Ferrari dealership in the centre of Lyndhurst.

The suspect was caught and detained - but traders had to let him go because over-stretched police were too busy to attend the incident.

Now campaigners are calling for Hampshire Constabulary and other forces across the UK to be given a major cash injection similar to the one awarded to the NHS.

It follows a swathe of cuts made by the Hampshire force, which is facing a £47.7 million funding shortfall.

One of the traders who caught the suspected thief was Tony Phillips, who runs the Mailmans Arms pub in Lyndhurst with his partner, Louise Hodgkins.

He said: "I held on to him for 30-40 minutes but had to let him go because the police had more important things to do.

"My anger is directed at the government - they're the ones who are making all the cuts."

John Apter, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said he shared the anger and frustration felt by the traders.

Mr Apter warned that the number of officers had dropped to dangerously low levels - both for the police and the people they were striving to protect.

He added: "The police are struggling to cope - we're in crisis.

"There are not enough officers and there's now a real sense of vulnerability. There are too many jobs for the amount of police on the streets and something has to give."

Cllr David Harrison is planning to raise the issue at Monday's meeting of New Forest District Council.

He said: "It's become painfully obvious that Hampshire police are not being provided with the money or resources they need.

"I'm hearing reports of shoplifters filling their pockets with goods from stores in Totton and simply running off or cycling away.

"Store workers can't be expected to confront them. Even if police are called it seems the offenders have a good chance of getting away with it."

A police spokesman said the Chief Constable, Olivia Pinkney, and Police and Crime Commissioner, Michael Lane, were campaigning for "fairer" funding.

Asked about the Lyndhurst incident the force said: "At the time police were dealing with a number of Grade 1 incidents, including a high-risk missing person, and no units were available to be deployed.

"As a result the man was let go."