IT may be three inches long and made of plastic – but that didn’t stop a toy soldier’s gun being branded a “firearm” by zealous airport officials.

Ken Lloyd and his wife bought the “signaller crouching” figurine during a recent visit to the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford Garrison.

But when the box containing the figure passed through the scanning machine at Gatwick airport, security officials declared the tiny plastic rifle a “firearm”.

Husband, Ken Lloyd, said his wife had demanded “a reality check”.

“The antenna was individually scanned as suspect and as the figurine’s SA80 rifle was pulled from the box, the security search officer contacted her supervisor,” he said.

Mrs Lloyd was directed back to the airport concourse and made her way to a branch of WH Smith and bought a padded envelope to post the rifle home.

“The two patrolling policemen didn’t seem to mind. They didn’t even notice. The numerous security people sitting around the concourse didn't leap to their feet as she passed,” said Mr Lloyd.

But when she tried to post the padded envelope, she hit another set back.

“These small padded envelopes are guaranteed to comply with postal regulations anywhere in the world, except Gatwick airport. The security mail slot was too narrow,” she said.

Mrs Lloyd was directed to the airport’s customer service department for suggestions on how to post the envelope.

They agreed to scan the sealed envelope to save reopening it, but it was too light to activate the scanner.

A radio was placed on the scanner and the envelope was X-rayed and posted by the customer service person.

Five days later, it arrived at the Lloyds’ home in Canada.

Royal Signals Museum spokesman Adam Forty said: “The Royal Signals Museum is a military museum and takes security very seriously, especially around military installations and airports, but this does seem more than a little excessive. “The ‘firearm’ is three inches long and cast out of resin. It’s probably just as well we didn’t sell her a toy tank.”