Residents of Fairfield Drive in Bury were taken aback by their newfound notoriety yesterday. Having been named and shamed as Britain's most burgled street, they were trying to work out exactly who had fallen victim to the robbers that according to the Government's new crime mapping website had struck 10 times in the last month – a fact which failed to tally with their own experience and police insistence that the road had no reported crime whatsoever last year.
Lee Parkin, 34, and his mother, Shirley, 74, have lived on the street for the past 30 years, and thought perhaps they were missing something. "It's not really that bad but maybe you just don't notice those things when you have lived here for so long. There is the youth element who have left school and having nothing better to do but I don't know anyone who has been burgled," said Mr Parkin.
The two recalled that a few years back about 20 vehicles had had their tyres slashed on the street, and in the summer a drunken party spilled into the road and the police were called, otherwise they had seen nothing out of the ordinary.
As a police helicopter buzzed over the looping crescent of semi-detached former council homes, Laura Jones, 26, was unloading her car. "No wonder my car insurance has gone up £800," the mother of two groaned on hearing of Fairfield Drive's unwanted fame. "I had my car here on the street unlocked for four years and nothing got stolen. Most people who live here are either elderly or have children. It is really very quiet.
"I used to go out and leave my door open," she said. "The only reason I don't now is because I have got a new flat screen telly. There have been times when I left the keys in the door at night and someone will lock the door for me and drop them through the letterbox."
Police forces seemed equally bemused by the figures, which were hailed by the Home Office as being the "most popular gov website ever".
To add to the confusion, the website was receiving 18 million hits an hour – a scale of demand which left the site frozen for much of the day.
Greater Manchester Police said Bury, which featured three times in the top 10 for burglary figures, enjoyed the lowest rate for such crimes in the entire force area, and the number of offences had fallen by a third. Bury's divisional commander, Chief Superintendent Jon Rush, said: "The statistic for Fairfield Drive came as a complete surprise as we did not have one recorded crime or incident on that road during December 2010." He added: "It would appear there is a glitch in the system as a number of incidents on that ward seem to have been coded to Fairfield Drive, which does not give a true impression of that area."
Meanwhile reports that it was in fact a quiet cul-de-sac in nearby Oldham that had been worst hit by burglars, with 18 incidents lodged on the website for Matthew Close in December, were greeted with equal dismay. Police said only one burglary had been recorded there in the whole of 2010.
There were problems elsewhere in the country. Sussex Police found their main call handling centres ranking unusually highly on the map, with the road off its Haywards Heath headquarters also singled out as a focus for antisocial behaviour – a "glitch" apparently caused by high volumes of hoax calls received at the site.
Surrey Street in Portsmouth, although less than 100 metres long, found itself third in the league table for overall crimes, despite playing host to a respectable pub, a car park and a block of flats.
It was a similar story in Talbot Grove in Bury, a respectable row of 41 houses which, according to the website, had recorded eight break-ins last month. "Absolute rubbish," said one resident of 40 years standing. "They've got the wrong place."
Also rated a hot spot was Shakespeare Avenue across the other side of town. It comprises just 21 local authority retirement bungalows. Mahalah Walker-Floyd, 82, had lived there for 20 years, and although there had been burglaries in the past, she thought things were getting better. "I don't think this map will make any difference," she said. "You phone the police and they will come. I suppose they do what they can but that's not much really."
Back in Fairfield Drive there was much the same sentiment. Shirley Parkin wondered exactly how she would be expected go about holding the police to greater account, which according to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, is the objective of the exercise. "I think the police should come around more often. You see them about once or twice a week and perhaps they should be here at tea time."
Her neighbour, who asked only to be named as Jane, said she had had incidents of lead being stolen from her roof and her daughter was racially abused, but she thought she had an effective burglar deterrence already in place. "Most people don't like coming to a house with snakes in and I've got one," she said.