A Basingstoke man has been charged with attempted burglary after an ex-military couple confronted a group of men attempting to break into a neighbouring business in Andover.

Spencer and Toni Whiteley say that they found two men attempting to break into a unit next to theirs at the Alexander Bell Centre in the West Portway Industrial Estate on December 30.

The couple, who own neighbouring gym CrossFit Blockhouse, were able to wrestle one of the suspected burglars to the ground and hold them until police arrived.

They credited their neighbours with helping them to foil the suspected burglary, telling the Gazette: “Ultimately, we worked with each other to protect our community".

Spencer and Toni first met while they were both serving in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers corps of the army. After finishing their military career in Tidworth, they moved to Andover ten years ago, where they subsequently opened their gym.

December 30 was just like any other day when they received a text from one of their neighbours about people hanging around outside the units.

“We’ve got a good friendship with all our neighbours,” said Toni, “and we got a text from one of them sighting some people hanging around the back. They had driven around the area and let us know.”

The back of the units has a narrow passage as a fire exit, where Spencer said there was “no reason to be”.

“Gym equipment is in demand at the moment,” said Toni, “so we decided to go down there just in case. We didn’t come expecting to find anyone, so we weren’t that scared.”

The couple arrived at 21:30, and split up to go in a pincer movement around the building. Spencer went on his own, while Toni went with her dog, Bear. However, rather than being a ferocious animal, as his namesake might suggest, Bear lived up to another one – a teddy bear.

“Bear’s not such a bear,” said Spencer. “He ran away when things started, but he came back in the end.”

As Toni went around the left, and Spencer the right, he says that he came across a group of masked men attempting to break into the fire exit of the neighbouring unit.

“My military training kicked in at that point,” Spencer said. “I shouted and screamed to cause havoc, then ran down the alley and chased after them. One jumped the fence, but I managed to grab another around the knees and wrestled him to the ground.”

As Toni ran towards him, Spencer was “tussling” with the man to keep him on the floor, managing to get him into an arm lock. Once they had him under citizens arrest, Toni called the police, who arrived “within five minutes”.

They said that a search of the area revealed that the group of men had a number of tools on them, including a knife, screwdrivers and a crowbar.

“In hindsight, I would do it again,” said Spencer, “but I would not send Toni out on her own. My biggest regret is that Toni going her way could have gone very differently.”

Hampshire Constabulary confirmed to the Gazette that a 31-year-old man from Basingstoke was arrested on suspicion of attempted burglary, and that nothing was stolen. He has been released from custody, but remains under investigation.

For Toni and Spencer, they’re “proud” of how they helped out.

“We don’t want to be vigilantes,” said Toni. “We’re just proud of how we and all our neighbours worked together. They turned up in minutes, and we all come together to look after our businesses in this terrible time.”

“We’re all suffering, but we’ve all come together to form a little community,” said Spencer. “We’re just local people just trying to make a living. We worked with each other to protect our community.

“They picked the wrong people to burgle.”