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Prayers for 'murder' arrest vicar

Shocked parishioners have said prayers at a church where their vicar is under arrest for murdering a baby.

Reverend Jim Percival, 64, the vicar of Holy Trinity CE Church in Freckleton, Lancashire, was arrested earlier this week with his wife Susan, 64, and daughter Ruth, 28, after the suspicious death of a baby boy.

Mr Percival and his daughter are being questioned on suspicion of murder and conspiracy to conceal the birth of a child.

His wife is being quizzed on suspicion of conspiracy to conceal the birth of a child.

Today, locals in the picturesque village close to the Fylde coast spoke of their shock.

And at Mr Percival's own church, parishioners said prayers for the vicar and his family at a service led by Reverend Terry Scholz, also from Holy Trinity Church.

"I simply said they could not be unaware of the tragedy that had befallen them, Reverend Percival and his family," he said.

"And I reminded them of this coming Sunday's reading - that God came to John the Baptist not in the comfort of his sitting room, but in the darkness and scariness of the wilderness, and God will be with our church family in the wilderness and we must pray that we keep our faith and pray for the family."

Mr Scholz said it would be wrong to "jump to conclusions" and said the wider "Church family" of parishioners at Holy Trinity would now pull together.

He added: "They are all nice people and, like any family going through difficult times, they will pull together. Like any family when it's going through troubles, you close ranks. They are all upset and concerned."

The arrests on Tuesday came after police were called to an address in Freckleton - believed to be the vicarage - shortly before 6pm on November 25, exactly a week earlier, following an initial report that a woman had given birth to a stillborn baby.

Locals said an ambulance was seen at the large detached house, followed soon afterwards by police.

Police cars and vans then came and went from the house, at the end of a secluded lane next to a farm, throughout last week.

Asked how long people had known of police activity at the vicar's house, one local replied: "This is a village. Nano-seconds."

More police activity continued at the house today as a van arrived with half a dozen officers, who carried a large toolbox into the house.

A neighbour said: "It's all a bit of a shock. They are a quiet family. We only know them to say hello. I didn't even know the daughter was pregnant."

Mr Percival came to the parish from Great Harwood in Lancashire 11 years ago.

His daughter Ruth is believed to have previously worked in a care home.

In a statement, Lancashire Constabulary said: "When police attended, the body of a newly-born baby boy was discovered at the address and an investigation was launched. The baby's mother, a 28-year-old woman, was taken by ambulance to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where she was treated and later released.

"Following numerous inquiries, the death of the baby boy is now being treated as suspicious.

"A post-mortem examination has been carried out and the cause of death is currently inconclusive. Further tests are now being carried out to try to establish exactly how the baby died.

"A 64-year-old man and a 28-year-old woman from Freckleton have been arrested on suspicion of murder, conspiracy to conceal the birth of a child ... and a 65-year-old woman has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to conceal the birth of a child. They are all currently in custody.

"The police investigation continues."

It is understood police were last night granted an additional 30 hours to question the three.

Bernie Pedley, 70, from Freckleton, said she had met Mr Percival at events with other churches in the village.

Mrs Pedley said: "He's a very friendly man. I was shocked.

"I've said prayers all the time. Just when I heard, this morning, from my husband, he'd been out shopping and he came in and said ... I couldn't believe it. Just say prayers.

"That's what the village is like. They're good people in the village.

"The baby is in heaven now. It's an angel."

The Diocese of Blackburn said it is offering pastoral support to the Freckleton community.

A spokesman said: "The diocese is aware of the situation regarding Rev Jim Percival and his family.

"We have been liaising closely with Lancashire Police and are offering pastoral support to the church and the local community and will continue to do so."

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