A vicar caught a prolific burglar who stuffed the church collection down his trousers during a morning service.

Fitness fanatic Father Andrew Cain intervened after his assistant curate Christine Cargill spotted a would-be thief with his hands in the vestry safe. Ms Cargill stood in the thief’s way during last Tuesday’s morning service at St James’s Church in Sherriff Road, West Hampstead, and called Father Andrew to help.

In front of a shocked congregation, he barrelled down the church aisle, threw off his jacket and tackled the man.

Father Andrew ordered 54-year-old Eric McDougall to kneel down on the church’s cold stone floor and empty his pockets.

After initially denying that he had stolen anything at all, McDougall produced the church’s weekly collection. A mobile phone and a silver corkscrew used to open the consecrated wine for services were also recovered. And he had even tried to take the £20 takings from the church’s fair-trade charity stall.

Ms Cargill said: “He wasn’t a particularly clever burglar. I saw him with his hands in the safe and blocked his way. At first he said he said he hadn’t stolen anything, but I had seen him with his hands in the safe and the cash was missing. When I went to call the police on my mobile it was missing – he had taken it and so he handed it back over to me so I could call the police on it.”

She added: “Father Cain is a gym junkie so he picked the wrong vicar to mess with. He just stood in front of him, he wasn’t going anywhere.”

Father Andrew, who has been at the West Hampstead church for 14 years, added: “I saw him come running out of the vestry and I ran and stood in his way to stop him. I shouted at him to get on the floor, to kneel down. I think because I am a fairly intimidating presence he realised there was nothing he could do, so he got on the floor – it was clear that he shouldn’t mess with me.”

Homeless McDougall, 54, pleaded guilty to stealing £150 in cash, a mobile phone and a silver corkscrew at Highbury Magistrates’ Court and was sentenced to two months in prison.

He will serve the sentence concurrently to a previous term as, at the time of the burglary, he was out on licence following a six-year sentence for burglary in 2009.

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