I am sitting watching television with my wife one Tuesday evening. My teenage daughter is in the kitchen with a friend. We hear people walk up to the neighbours' front door, murmuring quietly. We pay no attention.

Suddenly there is a crash. It does not sound particularly alarming, but I go outside to investigate because every house in the terrace (except ours) has been burgled, the people next door six times in the past couple of years.

Their front door has been smashed open, apparently with a sledge-hammer. Through the window I can see two lads inside picking up the television and video. I shout at my wife to phone the police and I sprint out of the gate. An estate car, doors open, is in the street, the driver revving the engine.

Foolishly - I suppose I hoped to make him drive away - I slam the open doors, and he drives a little way down the street. The burglar alarm is shrieking and there is confused shouting, some of it from me. One of the lads from inside the house has got into the car but the other is running out carrying the video. I go towards him to tackle him. He raises the video to throw it at me, and I step back. My daughter leaps on my back, also screaming, to prevent me from going for the youth. The car now reverses at speed towards me and my daughter, and we get out of its way - just. The third youth abandons the video and jumps into the car, which speeds off.

I run inside. I have the number and description of the car. My wife has just got through to the police, and relays the details to them.

Two police officers, a man and a woman, arrive a short time later. They had driven around looking for the car, but with no luck. They know there is no hope of catching the three lads, and so do the detectives who arrive the next morning.

Not long before, I had disturbed burglars at the same house. It was lunch time. I heard an unidentifiable thump from next door. Again, it was not particularly suspicious - it might have been someone further up the terrace slamming a door - but I went outside to investigate.

A young man was standing at the back door of our neighbours' house. To the unending amusement of my wife and our friends, I addressed him with the immortal words: 'Can I help you?' There was, after all, nothing to suggest the thump had anything to do with him. The neighbours' back door is steel-framed and showed no sign of damage, and neither did any of the windows. He said, perfectly pleasantly, that he was looking for his cat, and thought that it might have gone through the cat-flap.

As I walked away I saw him pull an accomplice up out of the coal-hole - the point of entry to the house. The noise I had heard had been made by the second man kicking an internal door. Though my wife and I had taken care to get good descriptions of the pair, the police knew as well as we did that there was no hope of catching them.

Smashing the door down is now the commonest way of breaking into a house. And it is becoming quite common for housebreakers not to bother to wait until the house is empty, but simply to smash their way in and challenge anyone inside to do something about it if they dare. The lads who smashed the door down next door must have known there were other people around - me, for instance - and could not have been certain that the house was unoccupied.

The question remains: what do you do when you see burglars, robbers, people vandalising property? If my daughter had not leapt on my back, one of two things might have happened. Either the lad and his accomplices would have injured me, possibly severely, then driven off to destroy the evidence by setting fire to the car, secure in the knowledge that there was not the remotest chance of the police catching them. Or I might have injured the lad, in which case I could have faced assault charges and possibly a prison sentence. So what do you do? Simply turn up the volume control on the television?