Theft suspect fell down shaft

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A suspected lead thief from Chorley had to be rescued after he fell 25ft from a church roof.

Emergency crews scrambled a four-hour operation to free the man, who climbed on to the roof of a church and fell down a shaft.

Police were called to St Ignatius Church in St Ignatius Square, Deepdale, Preston, at 2.10am on Thursday amid reports there were at least three men on the roof.

They were able to persuade two men, aged 28 and 31, and a 14-year-old boy to come down and they were arrested on suspicion of the theft of lead from the church roof.

However, a 28-year-old man had fallen down a deep shaft on the church roof and become trapped.

Officers had to call out the police helicopter, 11 firefighters, paramedics and a specialist rescue team to help free him.

Infra-red cameras on the helicopter were used to locate the injured man. The shaft could not be accessed from inside the church and the fire crews had to bring an aerial platform ladder to get to the man, who was winched to safety using a harness and ropes.

The man, who is from Chorley, was taken to Royal Preston Hospital for treatment to a knee injury.

He was later arrested on suspicion of theft. The other people arrested were from Chorley and Fulwood. Fr Tom Singleton, the parish priest for St Ignatius, said it was the second time in a week the church had been targeted by metal thieves.

He said: “We had lead stolen a couple of days ago - not a vast amount but it was original lead which cannot be replaced really.

“If it rains, there will be water damage.

“You can take anti-vandalism measures such as paint or SmartWater but it does not stop them trying.

“Fortunately, the church is surrounded by houses and everyone keeps an eye on each other round the square.”

A spokesman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue said: “The shaft on the church roof was inaccessible from anywhere but above.

“The man was only located by the police helicopter with its infra-red cameras as he was apparently unconscious when they first found him.”

A Lancashire police spokesman said a van, containing a quantity of lead, had been recovered near the church.