British police sprang into operation after receiving an emergency '999' phone alert from a woman in apparently in some distress -- only to discover it had accidentally been made by a couple having sex.

Officers at Durham in northern England became alarmed when the call came through to their headquarters in the middle of the night and all they could hear was what sounded like a woman crying with a man's voice in the background.

Police traced the number and rushed to the scene, where they found the embarrassed and disheveled couple who explained they were "messing around."

"It happened while they were having sex. The woman had depressed with her foot the '9' button on the phone which happened to be on the floor," a Durham police spokesman told Reuters Wednesday.

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