Fears of a prowler stalking children in a residential area have been quashed by Sussex Police.
Concerns arose when a yellow van was seen in the Hills Farm Lane, Granary Way and Greenway areas of Horsham yesterday evening.
Speculation spread on social media when a police helicopter was spotted, sparking rumours that officers were searching for the van.
But a police spokesman said today: “Enquiries have established that the van comes from the London area and may be looking for scrap metal.”
He added that police were “keen to correct a mistaken impression” that the yellow van might be “involved in stalking children.”
Sergeant Adam Ferries, of Horsham’s neighbourhood policing team, said: “Unfortunately it’s an abject lesson in social media being used to circulate incorrect information so that parents and others have become needlessly anxious.
“Previous reports of a small black van arousing suspicions in the same area were investigated and came to nothing, so I would ask people not to panic or jump to conclusions.
“Certainly if they see something out of the ordinary that concerns them, they should report it to police through the usual channels, but posting on social media without having the full facts to hand is to be discouraged.”
Sgt Ferries said the police helicopter was engaged in activity entirely unrelated to concerns prompted by the vans.
He said anyone seeing a crime in progress or fearing a crime is about to be committed should dial 999 and ask for police. Otherwise they should email 101@:sussex.pnn.police.uk or phone 101.
Alternatively they could contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.