Balaclava-clad squatters took over a Brighton church and hurled bottles and paint at passers-by and police.

Police officers cordoned off several streets and the force’s helicopter was scrambled as the drama unfolded at Montpelier Place Baptist Church on the border on Brighton and Hove on Saturday evening.

Three men were subsequently arrested and were last night being interviewed by police.

The emergency services were called shortly after 6pm on Saturday following reports of people on the roof of the Montpelier Place Baptist Church in Montpelier Place.

When the first two officers arrived, they – and other members of the public – were bombarded with bottles and other missiles.

They called for back-up and within minutes about nine roads were sealed off.

Katrina Thompson, who was on the way to the pub to meet friends, said: “It all started before I got here but there has been a lot of shouting and policemen walking around with riot helmets on.

“Whoever was on the roof was throwing paint bombs down at the police and the cars.”

With the sun setting, the squatters unfurled a handmade banner over the front of the church which read “The meek shall squat the earth”.

It is thought the slogan is a reference to a bible passage in which Christ declares in the sermon of the Mount “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”.

By 6.45pm between 20 and 30 officers were stationed in and around the church.

Neighbours reported police men wearing helmets scouring through gardens.

One officer, who was searching the inside church, was taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital with chest injuries after falling.

A police car had its windscreen smashed by what a force spokesman described as an “object containing paint”. The Argus also discovered at least one other civilian car with a smashed screen as well as half a dozen paint splats on the pavement.

Miss Thompson added: “The police were taking it all pretty seriously. They closed off a huge area and I haven’t been able to go anywhere.

“The officer told me it was for my own safety as missiles were being thrown.”

A nearby shopkeeper, who did want to give his name, said the squatters had been in the church for the last few days.

Nobody at the church was available for comment.

A police spokesman said: “Shortly after 6pm on Saturday police were called to the Montpelier Place Baptist Church in Montpelier Place, Brighton, after men had been reported on the roof.

“When a police car arrived bottles and other objects were thrown at the two officers and members of the public.

“The area was swiftly contained and searched, and three men were found in gardens nearby less than an hour later.

“Three men, aged 21, 20, and 19, were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and are currently in custody for interview and further enquiries.”

Detective Inspector Vicki Harris said: "We are still investigating the full circumstances of this incident but it already clear that both police and nearby public were at risk from what appears to have been a deliberate attempt to cause harm and damage.

"Anyone who saw what happened but has not yet been in touch is asked to contact us on 101 or email quoting serial 1201 of 8/3."