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Bellrope-cutter caught and sent on way

10 March 2023

AUDREY BOWERMAN

The severed ropes on the floor of the bell tower

The severed ropes on the floor of the bell tower

IT WAS a mystery worthy of Lord Peter Wimsey. Who had cut through the bell ropes inside a locked tower?

When the ringers of St John the Divine, Merton, in south-west London, arrived to ring for a Sunday service on 19 February, they found the ropes strewn on the floor — severed at ceiling height.

‘Someone’s gone nuts in here!’

“It looked like vandalism, and we called the police,” one of the ringers, Peter Judge, said. “The door was locked. Three of the ropes were untouched, and nothing else had been damaged. How did the vandal get in? Why did they lock the door after them?”

Had an exasperated neighbour, desperate for an undisturbed Sunday lie-in, taken direct action? But, Mr Judge said, no one had ever complained of their Thursday-night practice, or of their Sunday ringing. More worrying, the crime was very recent: one of the ropes was still swinging. Could the culprit be hiding in the upper bell chamber?

With police back-up, they climbed the ladder and the mystery was solved. A very agitated squirrel was scuttling around the bells. It then fled down into the ringing room, where it clambered up and down the remaining ropes, repeatedly trying — and failing — to escape through a broken window.

The police suggested that the team make a citizen’s arrest; but, instead, they opened the window and retreated. “In a few minutes, we saw the squirrel make its getaway,” Mr Judge said. “It scaled the outside of the tower, jumped to a tree, and disappeared.”

He thinks that it squeezed in through the window, and then could not get out. “He may have been stuck in the tower for a week, which might explain why he took out his frustration — and hunger — on our ropes,” he said.

They were spliced back together by their original maker, Philip Pratt, of Avon Ropes, Bristol, and are shortly to be reconnected to the bells. There is one more job for the ringers: to fix the window, so that no more squirrels can get in.

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