I will never forget the time I was burgled. I got home and found what I thought was a robust wooden front door to my first-floor flat in London had a jagged hole in the centre and mostly seemed to be in shards on the stair carpet. A burglar had kicked straight through the middle, bypassing both locks and the London bar on the door jamb.
He’d clearly been disturbed and had taken only a few pieces of fairly worthless jewellery and some trinkets, but what stayed with me was the feeling of violation. My home no longer felt safe and his violent attack on my door had shattered my peace of mind.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of burglaries recorded by the police increased from 404,216 in 2016 to 438,971 in 2017 – up 9%. A recent survey for Everest Home Improvement found that the vast majority of victims said it was the emotional consequences that left the biggest mark. More than half said the feeling that someone had been in their home (57%), or having their privacy violated (52%), was the worst part of the break-in. Almost half said it had left them feeling unsafe in their own home and over a third were unable to sleep well.
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Paradoxically, only two-thirds who had locks on their windows said they always used them, and one in seven only locked their front door when they were out, despite the fact that official crime figures show that in the majority of cases the intruder enters through a door or window.
Former senior police detective Stuart Gibbon now runs Gib Consultancy (gibconsultancy.co.uk, 07903 155695), specialising in advice on reducing crime.
‘Most burglars are opportunists,’ he says. ‘People associate burglaries with broken windows and forced doors, but up to half of all burglaries occur because people forget or don’t bother to lock a door or window.’
After retiring from the police, Calvin Beckford set up the Crime Prevention Website (thecrimepreventionwebsite.com), which offers free advice on home and personal security. ‘Most people who are burgled are in their thirties and forties because they’re out at work and they also have all the latest equipment,’ he says. ‘Older people are more often at home and have yesterday’s television and computer, although they do get cash stolen.’
If you are burgled, you are instantly at risk of being burgled again, as are your neighbours if they live in a similar-style property, so it’s important to do what you can to make your home safe and secure.
‘For six weeks, your risk of becoming a repeat victim is really high,’ warns Calvin.
Even in a terraced property – which you’d think would be safer than a detached one – you’re vulnerable. ‘If you have an alley that’s open to the public, your chances of being burgled are a lot higher,’ says Calvin. ‘And an end-of-terrace is twice as likely to be burgled as a mid-terrace.’
Steps you can take to improve security
Concerned about your neighbourhood? There are steps you can take to improve security. ‘The impact of burglary is a main driver for people to come together and start Neighbourhood Watch schemes,’ says John Hayward-Cripps, CEO of the Neighbourhood Watch Network. ‘They build stronger communities where people know and look out for each other, making burglaries more difficult to commit and reducing the number of victims who suffer the appalling effects of these crimes.’ To start or join a Neighbourhood Watch scheme, visit ourwatch.org.uk.
The good news is that Neighbourhood Watch says most burglaries can be prevented by taking a few simple steps. Don’t advertise the fact that you are out of the house: have interior lights on a timer when you’re on holiday, and keep calendars away from windows so burglars can’t see your plans. Also, be careful about posting on social media – selfies on the beach tell everyone that you’re away. Tell trusted neighbours you’re going on holiday and leave your contact details with them; ask them to draw the curtains at night and pull them back in the morning.
Your minimum level of security should meet with the approval of your home insurance company. Your policy will have a page listing conditions such as specific types of locks on external doors, for example, BS3621 (a five-lever mortise deadlock) or a multipoint locking system. It will usually specify that accessible windows should be fitted with key-operated locks. The Master Locksmiths Association (locksmiths.co.uk, 01327 262255) can provide details of local professionals for free advice and help with installation.
If you have a well-fitted and maintained burglar alarm – and you use it – you are less likely to be burgled. Calvin Beckford says most burglars are put off by them.
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Burglar-proof your house
Keep hedges and walls under one metre high, so burglars have nowhere to hide. A gravel drive will crunch is an intruder is about.
A porch can obscure an intruder, so make sure both the outer and inner doors are always locked.
In 75% of burglaries the offender gains entry through a door, so fit locks such as the BS3621 or a multipoint locking system. A solid door prevents piles of mail being visible when you are away on holiday.
Ground floor windows
A window is usually the second most popular point of entry, so fit key-operated locks.
Don't leave bins or ladders lying around - they can give access to open upstairs windows.
Make it difficult for burglars to get in by having a high wall or fence, and planting prickly plants up against it. Keep gates locked.
Burglars don't usually come along tooled up, they use what they can find to force access - so lock spades and forks in the shed.
Fit a heavy-duty padlock to the outside of the shed. Valuable items, such as expensive lawn mowers, should be chained and locked to the shed wall or floor.
Fit high, see-through gates and padlock them, to prevent access to the back, where a burglar could be hidden from view.
Lock it, even when you're indoors. If you have patio or French doors, add an additional deterrent such as the specially designed Patlock (patlock.co.uk)
The holiday checklist
- Make your home look occupied and you can relax while you're away.
- Ask a neighbour to move post away from the letterbox – important if you have glass in your front door.
- Put lights on a timer switch to make your house look occupied. You can also get timer switches for a radio or TV.
- Be careful about posting on social media - selfies on the beach tell everyone you're away.
- Tell trusted neighbours you're going away and leave your contact details with them. Ask them to draw the curtains at night and pull them back in the morning.
- Keep a car on the driveway so it looks like someone is home.
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