Gwent: The burglary capital of Britain

In the latest set of crime statistics, only one police force recorded a rise. Mark Hughes reports from the Welsh valleys

In the living room of Margaret Went's end-of-terrace home, the radio blares constantly. It is switched on whenever she is in the house, her only form of entertainment since burglars stole her television. It also plays when she is out because its noise, she hopes, will lead any potential house-breakers to believe someone is at home.

Ms Went's rudimentary security is boosted by some more robust measures. The 67-year-old grandmother's windows are fitted with locks and her patio doors have an alarm. Next, she says, she plans to fit barbed wire and carpet-grippers along the top of the fence in her backyard. She is going to such lengths because this latest burglary is not her first. In 40 years at the same address, she has been robbed four times.

Ms Went lives in Gwent, a rural corner of South Wales which is not normally associated with high levels of crime. But last week the region found itself in possession of two particularly unwanted accolades. Home Office figures showed that, following a 32 per cent increase in burglary in the region, Gwent now has the same burglary rates as London – 13 people in every 1,000 are victims.

While overall crime in 42 police forces is either falling or has seen no change, crime in Gwent has risen by 6 per cent, the only police force in England and Wales to post a rise. So what's going wrong? The latest figures show that in 2009 there were 7,261 burglaries, an increase of 1,761 on the 5,500 reported in 2008. In other words, there were five extra burglaries in the county every day. Newport is Gwent's only city and, as might be expected, much of the crime takes place there. Police say the city has a drug problem – mainly heroin. And where there are drugs, there are also burglaries.

Residents suggest that the shedding of jobs at the Corus steel factory in nearby Llanwern could be a factor. The factory had 10,000 workers in 1980 but today employs just 750 people. The police also cite the recession as a reason for the rise, but hesitate to use it as an excuse since the recession was a national event rather than a Gwent-specific one, during which most other forces still managed to post decreases in acquisitive crime.

Ms Went lives in Corporation Road in Newport. Like most burglary victims, she expresses the sentiment that it is not the value of the goods that were taken – her 32-inch flat screen television – but the fact that the intruders had rifled through every room in her house.

"This is my fourth [burglary] in 40 years which I think is quite a lot. So when I heard that Gwent was as bad as London for burglary, I wasn't really surprised," she said. "It does bother me, though, because you think of London as a dangerous place and perhaps not somewhere safe to live. You expect a little Welsh city like this to be a lot safer, at least that is the perception of most people."

But Newport cannot be entirely blamed for Gwent's ills. South Wales Police, the force next door to Gwent, deals with both of Wales' biggest cities – Swansea and Cardiff – and has still managed to post an 11 per cent drop in burglary and a 12 per cent drop in crime overall.

With just one city in the county, the majority of Gwent is typical Welsh countryside with market towns, hamlets and villages flanked by rolling hills and valleys; the sort of places in which residents would not have thought twice about leaving their doors unlocked, at least until recently. Abergavenny is one such example. A picturesque small town, it has not escaped the crime wave and almost everyone you meet has a story to tell about burglary. Kirsty Griffin, a 27-year-old florist, has been robbed twice in three years. "I've lived in the area my whole life and had never been burgled before. It has really surprised me because you expect it in large cities, but not small communities like this," she said.

Dennis Cooksey, 79, who runs a fruit and veg stall in the town's indoor market, has been burgled three times in the past 20 years. And another man says he has been burgled three times in nine years.

The only person who appears not to have been a victim is Phil James, who runs a carpet stall in the market. "In my village I don't lock my doors or lock my van in the evening. I have lived there for 24 years and have only ever known of one house being broken into," he says. But then the explanation, perhaps: he lives just outside Gwent, in the Dyfed-Powys police region.

Because of the sudden rise in Gwent's burglary rates, Detective Superintendent Rhiannon Kirk was, in February, put in charge of acquisitive crime for the region. She says the force was recently restructured – merging its previous three divisions into one – meaning that officers were not being briefed properly about known burglars in their area. When those burglars were not caught, they were able to continue their crime and so the rates rose.

Det Supt Kirk also points out that the force has now started a burglary-prevention campaign and has operations in place to target known burglary gangs, one of which is known as the Back Door Burglars. "We used to have extremely good burglary detection rates, but we took our eye off the ball because we were concentrating on the restructure. As a result, we neglected burglary but we have addressed that and I am confident it will start coming down," she said.

"No one in Gwent Police is proud of these figures. And with regards to Ms Went putting barbed wire up, no one should have to live like that. But Gwent police is not committing these burglaries. We will catch the people who are doing them, but in the meantime they really need to think about the people's lives they are affecting," she added.

Gwent vs London


Gwent: 550,000 / London: 7,500,000

Average weekly income

Gwent: £394 / London: £627

Average house price

Gwent: £138,585 / London: £370,571

Unemployment levels

Gwent: 9.3% / London: 9.1%

Overall crime rate

Gwent: 91 per 1,000 residents (sixth in the country) / London: 111 per 1,000 residents (highest in country)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own