A POLICE helicopter helped to catch three men suspected of stealing lead from a church roof.
The trio were apprehended after a concerned member of the congregation at St Margaret’s Church in Highland Road, Southsea, raised the alarm.
Police called out the force helicopter which flew from Worthing and circled the church as the men tried to hide on the roof while officers surrounded the site.
Residents looked on in amazement as the drama unfolded at about 8.30pm on Wednesday.
Eventually the men – aged 26, 18 and 18 – climbed down where they were arrested on suspicion of trying to steal lead from the church roof.
Two were bailed while one remained in custody last night.
The Rev Richard Smith said: ‘I got a call from a member of the congregation who happened to be at an event in the parish centre to say somebody had been seen on the roof and the police had been called.
‘By the time I drove round there I would say there were about eight police officers there. I was quite surprised.
‘The helicopter spotted people on the roof and the police on the ground started shouting to them to come down.
‘Two men came down pretty quickly. Another man had climbed up to the top roof and hid behind one of the box parapets. I dread to think of the risk to his life in getting up there.
‘The third man eventually came back down.’
It is the third time in less than a year that the church has been targeted. Lead has been stolen from the roof on two separate occasions in the last four months.
Mr Smith has praised police for their quick response.
He added: ‘The police response was excellent. I couldn’t have expected anything better from them.’
One Highland Road resident, who did not want to be named, said: ‘I was watching TV and heard a helicopter hovering and hovering. Finally I went out and saw policemen all around the church.
‘I was told by a neighbour some men had gone up on to the church roof.
‘It was quite dramatic with the police helicopter circling overhead.
‘You hear about this sort of thing happening – lead being taken from churches and schools.’
A spokesman for Hampshire Constabulary said: ‘Police were called at around 8.30pm [on Wednesday night] to Highland Road to reports that three people had climbed on the roof of St Margaret’s Church.
‘It is believed they were stripping lead from the building.
‘Using the helicopter police were able to locate the suspects on the roof.’
The three men have been released on bail until Friday, February 25.