Crime drives footballer from village of celebrities

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The Independent Online

Hale may be one of the most salubrious villages in the Manchester commuter belt and rival Surrey for the splendour of its mansions and the quality of life it affords those lucky enough to live there.

But for Ben Thatcher, 27, a Manchester City footballer whose home was burgled twice in three months, the allure began to pall. According to his manager, Kevin Keegan, also a resident of Hale, the break-ins were the final straw for Thatcher's wife and she refused to return north.

Explaining why he was selling the Wales international to Fulham, for £500,000, Keegan said: "He has been robbed twice. It was a very scary thing. His wife would not come back. We love him to bits at this football club but some things are more important."

"I have told Ben he has to stay here another week to find a replacement for him and I know he will not let me down.

"Some people might say that I am a softy but I don't want Ben here while his family and kids are down south."

Crime in Hale, while by no means non-existent, is way below the national average. Tory-dominated Trafford council, which encompasses Hale, is proud that reported offences have fallen 17 per cent year-on-year, with burglaries down 18.6 per cent in three years. That makes it not only one of the safest places in Manchester but in the whole of Britain.

Thatcher, who has a reputation as one of the toughest defenders in the Premiership, was not at his £500,000 home either time the burglars struck.

The first raid was on 29 September, when his older brother David, also a professional footballer, was at the property. He told police he saw a gloved hand appear through the letterbox and take a set of car keys. Mr Thatcher opened the door and chased the burglar, who got away with another man in a Volkswagen Golf. The keys were dropped before the pair escaped and nothing was stolen.

In the second raid, two days before Christmas, two burglars forced a door and took a 42-inch plasma TV worth an estimated £2,000. They fled in a Vauxhall Cavalier after neighbours became suspicious and called police.

Police are hunting a white male described as in his twenties, 5ft 8in tall, with straggly blond hair and wearing a black tracksuit.

The local police insist it is cracking down on burglaries in the village, home not only to leading football stars - among them the Manchester United captain, Roy Keane, and the Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness - but stars from Coronation Street, which is filmed at Granada Studios in Manchester city centre. Superintendent Peter Aaronson, head of police operations in Trafford, said: "It's hugely unfortunate that anybody has their house broken into. But the burglary rate in Trafford is one of the lowest in the country. Nevertheless the community needs to pull together and stand firm against such acts."

Last October, a burglar, Philip Ankers, 37, was jailed for five and a half years after preying on homes in Hale and nearby Bowdon and stealing luxury cars and goods worth up to half a million pounds. Police said that as a result of Ankers' arrest burglary rates in the area dropped 59 per cent. He told police he did not target any homes outside the area, saying: "Why should I bother when I've got millionaires on my doorstep?"

John Smith, the chief executive of Altrincham Chamber of Commerce, added: "Hale is a vibrant area -it's one of the best places to live in the North-west. It's prosperous; there are interesting places to go there. But, although we're assured by the police, crime hasn't gone away; if it happens to you it's terrible."

Thatcher arrived at Manchester City after stints with Wimbledon, Spurs, and Leicester. He was transferred to City from Leicester for £100,000, although he has been involved in fees totalling £7m in his career.

He was at the centre of controversy in October last year when he was deliberately fouled by David Beckham during a World Cup qualifier between England and Wales. The England captain admitted his action on tape, claiming he did it because he knew he had fractured ribs and, by getting a yellow card, he would serve a suspension while injured.