A three-year-old Cheshire boy who went missing for nearly three hours – wearing no shoes or socks – was found after a huge search mission was launched.

Little Lewis Palmer had been sharing a picnic with other children while in the care of a childminder in Wilmslow when he disappeared on Wednesday (July 27) afternoon.

Cheshire Police were scrambled, with a helicopter sent up to join the hunt.

A search HQ was set up at Lacey Green Primary Academy, where a dog unit and volunteers from Cheshire Search and Rescue were preparing.

Officers had asked neighbours to help by looking around their own homes and gardens, and his mum issued an urgent appeal over Facebook which was shared hundreds of times.

But after a three hour search Lewis was found safe and well in his babysitter’s home.

Concerned families wanting to help had already begun to gather at the school for a co-ordinated search effort when it was announced he had been found, to the relief of the entire community.

A neighbour of his childminder said that Lewis and a number of other children had been having a picnic when he went missing.

It is understood that Lewis may possibly have returned to the childminder’s home while the search operation was under way, but this has not been confirmed.

Inspector Jez Taylor of Cheshire Police told our sister paper the Manchester Evening News: “Lewis managed to make his way back to the location he went missing from. We’re unsure of exactly how he got there. Obviously we had done a complete and thorough search of the neighbouring properties, but he made his way back which we are delighted about.”

He said they did not know where Lewis had been during the missing hours.

He added: “He had been playing outside and part of the game he had been playing meant he took his shoes and socks off.

“We are trying to find out exactly how he did disappear.”

Praising the community effort Lewis’ disappearance sparked, he added: “They have been absolutely brilliant, they couldn’t have been any more helpful, volunteers have helped come forward to help the search.

“As a parent myself, it’s terrifying, I’m just glad we found Lewis as quickly as possible.”

He said well over a dozen officers, as well as Cheshire Search and Rescue volunteers, a dog patrol unit and a helicopter had been involved.

He added: “For now it is a mystery where Lewis has been – but we will unpick that as the investigation continues.”