Monday, 12 July 2010

Thief in the night

Some burglaries are more bizarre than others. There was one particular thief, for example, who specialised in taking the hinges from people's garden shed doors. Not so that the doors could be opened and the booty taken from within, but for their own sake. Presumably, then, a collection of hinges adorn some mantelpiece somewhere, where the retired criminal can stand before the fire and reminisce to guests about a past career in the realms of the newly un-hinged.

The burglary at our house was only slightly more rational. The only things taken from within the house were a very old mobile phone (soon deactivated) and a nest of cake-tins (which only made it as far as the garden). And this after every cupboard, including the ones for whisky and the family silver (such as it is) had been opened. The car, which was on its last legs anyway, was fired up using my keys, but even that only got as far as the nearest field, where it was later found burned and abandonned.

And of course, like every victim of crime, we asked ourselves, "why us?". So I stepped into our burglar's shoes. They were (said the Polis who looked at the prints on the floor) size 8 Ellesse trainers. And of course they were a perfect fit.

So here I am, walking into the neck of our cul-de-sac late one October evening: it's that time of year when, all of a sudden, the evenings revert to getting dark at their natural time. The sudden change sends out a signal, and that signal is, right you honest Brits, you've had your ration of fun for this year, time to stay indoors now. Along with that comes a second signal, only audible to some: right you Burglars, it's playtime! The only setback is that burglars, like the rest of us, are visual animals and don't like it to be absolutely dark. Thankfully this street comes with a full complement of street lighting. Some houses even have extra lights which helpfully come on so that our burglar can see where the lock, or any other weak points, are. And indeed no research has ever shown that artificial light, by itself, helps reduce burglary.

Our house is set back from the street so that our burglar has to pass behind a high hedge and walk across the front drive, directly below our bedroom windows, before reaching the high back gate. Through the gate and out of sight of the street, the rest is plain sailing.

We set about changing the landscape so that it was more sociable and less burglar-friendly.

We are not allowed to shoot out the street-lights, but our neighbours got the council to blank out the part of the light that shone directly into four bedroom windows.

I bought loppers and took down the front hedge. All of a sudden our front garden became more sociable and less like a dingy Victorian parlour. We hired a firm who took up the concrete drive and replaced it with gravel. Not only did this look far more classy, it is also impossible to sneak across. Then we had a lock put on the back gate, so that any breaking or picking had to be done at the front, in full view of the entire street. And we don't keep the car keys downstairs anymore (although we do have door keys at hand in case of fire).

But I think the most convincing reason why we were never burgled again, even though re-burglaries are depressingly common, was beyond even the most sophisticated parts of "Designing Out Crime". There exists a community of burglars. They frequent the same pubs, clubs and gyms. They recognise each other by things like parking on disabled spaces without the inconvenience of actually being disabled. They talk to each other: sport, motors, bling (they like the same bling as everybody else), recent jobs. There was this most peculiar place I did recently. Well-off-looking semi, nice part of town. We got in and, I'm not joking, there was nothing worth having! It was all old stuff.

Well, yes. There's bling, and there's class.

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