A lost Santa sparked a search of the River Thames after his worried friends rang 999 fearing for his safety.

The RNLI were launched after the man, who had gone out on Saturday evening on a stag do, was last seen on Hungerford Bridge.

He was reported missing at around 6am after his friends could not find him or get hold of him on his phone.

Read more: Nude swimmers in River Thames cause a stir in Deptford

RNLI lifeboat helmsman Stan Todd said: “It seems a man dressed as Santa had been on a stag night on Saturday evening and into the early hours of Sunday and lost his friends. We think he ended up drinking a few too many mulled wines and got separated from them on the way home.

The Tower RNLI team on the way to look for the man

“His mates tried without success to get hold of the man on his phone. Fearing for his safety they called 999 and as Hungerford Bridge was the last place he had been seen, the Coastguard requested the lifeboat to launch.

“When we arrived at the bridge we saw a man dressed as Santa walking off it alongside a policeman.”

The run up to Christmas is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for the RNLI, and the incident on Sunday, December 20 has sparked a renewed appeal for people to take more care when near the water.

RNLI London Community Incident Reduction Manager Adam Robson said: “Of course people are out drinking and enjoying themselves in London during the run up to Christmas, but whether you are on the river, or simply walking alongside it, please take extra care.

“Slips, trips or falls can happen all too easily, especially if you’ve been drinking. Plunging into the bitingly cold river water can cripple even the most accomplished of swimmers causing uncontrollable gasping, drawing water into the lungs and making it almost impossible to swim or even stay afloat.

“Please don’t let a drunken trip or fall turn a fun night out with friends into a life or death situation. Please respect the water and take extra care around the River Thames. If you see someone in trouble, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.”