POLICE swooped on a tranquil village church when thieves were spotted loading up wheelbarrows full of lead in the dead of night.

VILLAGERS in Buckden helped thwart callous thieves who were spotted loading up wheelbarrows full of lead that had been stripped from a church.

Eagle-eyed residents spotted two men stealing six panels of roof materials from St Mary’s Church in Buckden shortly before midnight on Sunday (October 17) and called the police.

Within minutes, the force helicopter took to the skies while police dogs descended on the scene, one dog biting one of the culprits as he tried to escape.

The police operation unfolded at 11.35pm on Sunday and a 30-year-old man was arrested after allegedly causing an estimated £5,000 of damage.

Reverend Ally Barrett has now given her “heartfelt thanks” to the quick-thinking resident who caught the thieves red-handed and alerted Cambridgeshire police.

The stolen lead was recovered from a nearby Volkswagen Polo but the hunt is still on for one of the thieves who got away.

“We are incredibly grateful to the kind neighbour who raised the alarm,” Rev Barrett said. “Someone had spotted something suspicious going on in the churchyard when they saw a man filling a wheelbarrow with lead and the police responded quickly and effectively.”

The first Rev Barrett heard of the theft was when her husband woke her to say a full-scale police operation was happening at the church.

She was told to stay away for safety reasons as one man, from Middlesex, was arrested on suspicion of theft and the helicopter was deployed to try to catch his accomplice.

The lead had been installed just five months before on St Mary’s Church’s new community building. Volunteers have worked tirelessly on the £500,000 project for the past 10 years and continue to build it themselves to save on construction costs.

This theft has put them back but churchwarden and building director Peter Brittain hopes the repair cost will be minimal now they have recovered the lead.

It is hoped the church’s insurance company will pay to repair the damage, but Rev Barrett said lead thefts were now so common at churches that it was more difficult to get them to pay.

Last week vandals caused up to £10,000 of damage to 900-year-old St James’ Church, in Little Paxton.