West Hampstead vicar stops thief from stealing collection box takings

Two West Hampstead clerics have told of the moment they foiled a thief who was trying to swipe the collection box takings – by commanding him to kneel down.

Father Andrew Cain, of St James’ Church in West Hampstead, heard the screams of assistant curate Christine Cargill and rushed to her assistance.

She had delivered the morning sermon and had returned to the vestry to de-robe when she found a man rummaging through the safe at about 11am on Tuesday last week (February 22).

Father Cain, who has been at the vicarage for 14 years, blocked the intruder’s escape route until police arrive.

He said: “I just stood in front of him and told him to kneel down on the floor. I didn’t realise at the time it was quite appropriate language.”

The church, in West End Lane, had been busy with parishioners who were getting ready to leave after the morning service when the attempted theft took place.

Father Cain, who works out at the gym several times a week, said: “I was worried about Christine because I heard her cry out. I saw this figure, and was worried he might have done something to her.

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“You don’t stop and think you just act. He was trying to take stuff he wasn’t allowed to take so we stopped him. You don’t think about the danger of it until afterwards.”

Ms Cargill said the thief must have crawled along the church floor into the vestry while she was holding the service.

Once inside he found the key to the safe and had tried to pocket �150 in cash, an iPhone and a corkscrew, before he was interrupted.

“He had obviously planned the robbery and wasn’t expecting to see anybody,” said the assistant curate.

“It is shocking that people resort to robbing churches. When you are in the middle of a service it is the last thing you think about.”

The church is stepping up its security in response to the attempted robbery.

Father Cain said: “Most of the churches round here are locked precisely because of the fear of theft and vandalism.

“Churches are big and full of expensive and large items and pieces of art that are valuable.

“We are going to think more carefully about what we leave open when we are out and about. But the reality is we can only do so much and if someone is determined, they are determined.”

Eric McDougall, 54, of no fixed address, was jailed for two months after pleading guilty to burglary at Highbury Magistrates Court.