I wish I'd kept my mouth shut: The police often complain about people's reluctance to help to fight crime. But when Jeanne Griffiths tried to do her bit, they let her down

NEXT TIME I will think twice before getting involved in any incident, however minor.

At 5pm last Friday, I was putting some rubbish in the dustbin by my front garden gate. Across the road, two young girls, aged 15 or 16 at the most, were throwing objects at the windows of an empty basement flat. Foolishly, I told them to stop, believing they would run away shamefaced. Not a bit of it.

'Wot ya gonna do then, call the police?' asked one, hands defiantly on hips. 'Could do, if you don't stop,' I said.

'Go on then, call them.'

I went indoors, taking in my two- year-old son who had appeared at the gate to see what was going on. I watched from my sitting room as the girls tried again to smash a window of the flat. Failing to do so, they pushed the dustbin down the steps then crossed the road to my house.

'Called them yet, have you?' they shouted, leaning on my front wall and tearing the leaves off a small lilac tree. They then tipped over my dustbins, scattering the contents over the front garden.

I called the local police. 'Sorry,' they said, 'but we have no one available. We've got an armed robbery in progress. We'll get someone to call you back.' No one did.

The girls then started to comment on the objects they could see through my window. 'Nice pictures,' said one. 'I'd like them.'

'She's got a telly and a video, and that clock's worth a few bob,' said the other. 'We'll get them when she's out.'

'Called them yet, have you?' they kept yelling at me. I nodded and mouthed 'Yes'. After 10 minutes, with no sign of the police, they started laughing, calling me, among other things, a bloody liar.

They rang the doorbell persistently, broke the chain between my garden path and my neighbour's and continued to demolish the garden plants. I started to feel uneasy. All my neighbours were either out or away, and my husband would not be home until late.

I went up to the first-floor room and looked out. They seemed to have gone. By this time I was shaking with a combination of mild fear and anger. The girls reappeared, dragging a metal dustbin stolen from another garden.

Instinctively, I grabbed my camera. Making my son stay behind me, I started taking pictures. I could not see their faces, so I tapped on the window to make them look up. One girl ran for cover behind a tree, but the other stood there posing, yelling: 'Take some more, take some more. I'm a good model.' She tried to persuade the other girl to pose, too, but she only made a brief appearance when her friend told her I had the camera down. Little did she know I was still taking shots.

'Enough is enough,' I thought, and went to call the police again. Still they would not come. I went downstairs. The doorbell rang repeatedly. I did not answer, but sat in the hall with my son. I heard a crash. I went into the front room - luckily the metal dustbin had hit the window sill but not the windows, and the girls seemed to have gone.

They have not reappeared, but the episode left me feeling vulnerable and concerned that, should they be bored again one day, I am good game. They have also noted the objects of value in my sitting room.

That I should be intimidated by two girls half my age worries me greatly. It seems they wanted a confrontation, but I was not to be enticed out - my son's safety was more important. And if I had confronted them, what would have been achieved? If it had got physical, I could hardly hit back at two juvenile girls - I would be in more trouble than them. If they had done more damage to my property, would the police have come then? The police did drop by the next day. When I said the girls hadn't been back, they left in haste. They were not interested in the photographs. Would they have taken it more seriously if it had been two boys taunting a woman alone with a small child?

What startled me most was the girls' confidence. They knew they had the upper hand, were evidently enjoying upsetting me and seemed to want the police to arrive. Perhaps they would relish the attention, knowing that, at most, they would probably get a ticking off. Perhaps these streetwise kids know that being young, female and doing nothing more serious than wrecking a garden and tipping over dustbins is not enough to bring the police out.

The police often complain about the 'it's none of my business' attitude of the public. Unless they are willing to support those who do try and stop crime, however minor it may seem in comparison with an armed robbery, that attitude will continue. Next time, I shall keep my mouth shut.