A PRIEST told this week how he heard two metal thieves on the roof of his church in the early hours of last Saturday morning — and was nearly arrested himself.
The Vicar of St James’s, Devizes, in Wiltshire, the Revd Dr Keith Brindle, was part-way through a 24-hour prayer vigil on knife crime when, Kirsty Wilmott, who had arrived early for her turn, heard noises. “I thought it was the army on manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain,” he said, “but she said it certainly was not — and she was right.”
ST JAMES’S , DEVIZESDr Keith Brindle poses with a knife amnesty bin at his church, St James’s, Devizes, last month
They spotted a figure in a stained-glass window over the flat roof of the vestry. “We put on the armour of God, cowered in a corner, and called 999,” Dr Brindle said. The police arrived within three minutes, but phoned the Vicar to say that they couldn’t see anyone. Dr Brindle went on: “I went outside, but I was dressed in a hoody and a baseball cap, and the police immediately took me for one of the thieves. I had to explain who I was, and said that they had actually walked past the thieves who had hit the deck on the roof. I showed where they were, and the officers arrested two people.
“The police were really pleased. They said, ‘We never ever catch these people red-handed; we always find out a few days later when it rains and the roof starts leaking.’
“It was a hassle, but compared with the thing we were praying about it was nothing. People think ‘Sleepy rural Wiltshire’ and they compare it to London or Manchester, but actually we do have knife crime here. We have had really sad murders in the last couple of months involving young people.”
The vigil was the culmination of a fortnight’s knife amnesty in which 350 knives were handed in at nine collection points in Wiltshire — four in churches. St James’s alone took in 84 knives.
Dr Brindle said: “It was just a number of coincidences that led to all this. It was the first time in three-and-a-half years we have had a night prayer vigil; until a few hours before we were planning to do the vigil somewhere else; Kirsty turned up half an hour early for her slot, and then asked what was the noise; half an hour later, and they would have been gone.”
He later wrote on Facebook: “To quote William Temple: ‘When I pray coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.’ Prayer . . . what a mysterious and wonderful thing it is!”
A Wiltshire Police spokesman said that a 29-year-old man from Melksham and a 48-year-old man from Salisbury were arrested on suspicion of attempted theft. The older suspect was released on conditional bail; the 29-year-old was wanted on warrant for recall to prison and was remanded into custody. Officers are investing possible links to other recent lead thefts.
Dr Brindle said: “I have asked for restorative justice with these two. I want them to hear the trouble they have caused, but I also want to hear their story — how they end up on a wet church roof at two in the morning doing something dangerous.”