The Rev Alistair Helm could be the lead in a cop series: tall, muscular, robust sense of humour that gets him into trouble. 'Hold on while I get rid of this lot,' he says, tugging roughly at the red chasuble with gold embroidered wings on the back.

The similarity is no coincidence. He is an inspector with Leicestershire CID responsible for investigating all the murders on his patch, which extends from villages north- east of Leicester to the city centre. He recently became one of 1,800 non-stipendiary ministers in the recession-hit Church of England.

'People think because you're a priest and a policeman you're soft,' he says, swivelling into a side pew. He isn't. 'I set up drug-busting raids when I was in charge of the Serious Crime Squad. I get my standards from the Gospel and they're tough. Christ was successful because he got dirty. He didn't sit in an office and fax things - he lost his temper in the temple and threw market stalls about. If I need to use force, let it be done.'

He changed into a sharp blue and white striped shirt with a dog collar which his Archdeacon swears he pinched from Prisoner Cell Block H. 'The Catholic wing wear black, the evangelists wear pale blue so Wipples (the ecclesiastical suppliers) save these for me.'

Police work provides skills - talking to officers, giving presentations - perfect for marrying and preaching, plus banter that offends some worshippers.

'There's this vicar hot on hell, who notices the churchwarden asleep at the back,' he told the congregation of 140 on the Sunday I saw him preach at the church of St James the Greater. ' 'All those who want to go to Heaven stand up,' he says and they all stand except the warden. 'Those who want to go to HELL stand up,' he shouts, slamming his fist on the pulpit so the churchwarden jumps up: 'I don't know what's on offer, vicar, but it looks like we're the only ones going for it'.'

'I'll get complaints about that. People think jokes are irreverent but I think Christ has a brilliant sense of humour. The church can be stuffy, sanctimonious. My sermons are earthy and I joke because people like laughing.'

The address also involved UB40, Take That and East 17 - the subject was the Trinity - but not Leicester City Football Club. 'I bring in City whenever I can. They need all the prayers they can get. When I spoke about the role of godparents as supporters I had a striker in full Leicester kit kicking a ball up the aisle.'

St James the Greater, sombre amd cavernous, was emptying after Family Service. 'I wandered in here one Sunday, I haven't a clue why. I became a sidesman and felt I was being asked for more.' He says that the then minister, Canon Derek Hole, now Provost of Leicester, recognised his calling.

'I became a deacon whose job is washing up, if you want to be crude about it, setting the table and cleaning the chalices after the meal. Then I studied evenings and weekends for the priesthood.'

At divisional HQ they call his conference Morning Prayers and stick cellophane stained glass on his office windows. Colleagues also ask about baptism, banns and his counselling skills are in demand on a formal basis: he was on the relatives' reception team following the Kegworth air disaster.

'When I'm investigating a murder I set up victim support alongside. As a force we're strong on it - we have links with the Victims of Crime Support charity.'

He has no problem reconciling Christianity and the CID. 'The Police and Criminal Evidence Act ended malpractice,' he states as an article of faith. 'I've never seen anything to make me uneasy. Besides, anyone would intervene in a violent interrogation. An agnostic isn't going to want to see someone smacked about the head.'

Fifteen years' police work has not made him cynical and, unlike some officers, familiarity with horror has not deadened his sensibilities. 'Each morning you see a new list of assaults and burglaries, but you tell yourself you're dealing with the extremes of society. Young officers need reminding of that.

'I see horrendous domestic violence caused by poverty and drinking, but crime is also caused by evil. There's nothing in the Bible saying people can't be punished. I see people sent to prison for life, which they deserve. But there should still be hope, even in prison.'

He had an ecumenical service that afternoon, an evening service and, during the week, a 7.15am service. He also has parish visiting and the youth club to fit into his week. 'The most difficult job, though, is writing the sermons. I'm not a great theologian, but it's fair to say I can speak from the heart more than other people. People whose career is the church might have to be more careful. I get away with murder.'

(Photograph omitted)