High home security 'raises risk of attack': As violent crime claims three lives, a criminologist warns burglars and thieves are turning to brutal methods as a first resort

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The Independent Online
HOUSEHOLDERS are more likely to be violently attacked by burglars when they cover their property with bolts, locks and bars, a criminologist warned yesterday.

Andrew Willis, senior lecturer in criminology at Leicester University, said as people had turned their houses into fortresses so burglars had become more brutal in their methods of forcing entry and dealing with occupants.

'Fifteen years ago car crime was a bit of an art form, using a piece of wire to carefully slip the lock. Now thieves throw a brick through the windscreen or the window,' he said.

'It's the same with houses. Burglars use a sledgehammer or jemmy the door off its hinges. You see the same trend in ram-raid attacks. The threshold of violence has gone up and there's an increasing likelihood the offender will use violence as a first resort.'

His warning came after two men died over the weekend while attempting to stop burglars. Malcolm Albrighton, 48, an ex-soldier, was punched after chasing burglars he saw running from a house in Atherstone, Warwickshire, on Sunday. Police were questioning seven men yesterday about the incident.

Leslie Winder, 52, a retired gravedigger, was stabbed on the doorstep of his daughter's house in Barmston, Washington, Tyne and Wear, on Saturday. He had disturbed a burglar.

A third incident emerged yesterday. Gerald Price, 55, of Letterworth, Leicestershire, was kicked in the face and knocked through a glass door after tackling a burglar who broke into his sister-in-law's home in Coventry on Sunday. He suffered a broken tooth, bruising and a head wound.

The incidents reflected a public perception that householders had to undertake 'DIY' crime prevention themselves because the police had very little impact on residential burglary, Mr Willis said.

'The responsibility for crime prevention has been thrown very much on to the individual householder in the past few years. I did a major crime survey in Leicester in 1992 which found that although 70 per cent of burglaries were reported, in 90 per cent of cases the property was not recovered. The public had no confidence the police would do anything about their crime.'

Mr Willis's observations were backed up by Home Office statistics showing the rise in violent burglaries over the last four years. But police attempted to play down the dangers yesterday.

'Violent burglaries are few and far between,' said Detective Constable Andy Nash, of Eastbourne CID, who is investigating the case of a householder who abducted two men whom he suspected of burgling his house.

Stephan Grant, 39, a businessman from Hove, East Sussex, bundled one man into the boot of his BMW and another into the passenger seat to drive them to a police station after they scaled the wall of his pounds 750,000 home last week.

The Chief Constable of Sussex police, Paul Whitehouse, echoed DC Nash. 'I would say very strongly that people should not worry about this or get it out of proportion. I would also advise people that if they do confront burglars they shouldn't intervene physically,' he said.

'It can be more useful in the long term if they dial 999 and note a description of the burglars and the registration, make and colour of any vehicle they are using.'

Professor Jock Young, head of Middlesex University's criminology centre, agreed. 'It's very unusual to see a burglar in the first place. The danger from intruders in your own house is miniscule: burglars tend to avoid houses which are occupied,' he said.

'People more often get injured by the huge dogs they get to protect themselves from burglars than the criminals. Violence is more likely to come from people you know. In fact, the person by far the most likely to kill you is yourself.'

(Graphs omitted)