Insensitive police add to stress of burglary: 'Sense of violation' lasts for many months. Martin Whitfield reports

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The Independent Online
POLICE and insurance companies often compound the feelings of anger and stress from domestic burglary through an insensitive and bureaucratic approach, according to a study of victims.

Research by Dr Paula Nicolson, a psychologist at the University of Sheffield, found the police had made some efforts to be supportive, but were themselves likely to be despondent in the face of falling clear- up rates and convictions.

'There were many victims in this study who were devastated by their experience, but felt that the police were merely going through the bureaucratic motions or were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of similar incidents,' she said.

The number of burglaries has almost doubled in the past 10 years to more than 750,000 incidents a year with the average value of goods stolen being about pounds 500. Nothing is stolen in 23 per cent of break-ins.

Insurance company representatives or professional loss adjusters often made victims feel guilty or even under suspicion while few had faith in the criminal justice system.

Dr Nicolson said she found that severe psychological reactions were caused by what was taken, not how much, and that people worried about future intrusion into their space. Anxieties were expressed over months, with victims often lying awake at night and being nervous at the slightest noise.

One woman, who took two showers a day trying to wash away the feeling of violation similar to that felt by rape victims, told Dr Nicolson: 'I don't want to stay here any more. It's a place that allowed violation . . . I hate it.'

Initial shock over the incident commonly turned to anger and bitterness while people grieved over the loss of particular items, usually of sentimental value associated with an individual member of the family.

People will often search in second-hand stores for their belongings or even look at jewellery on other people in the street. Families may also want to move house as a direct result of burglary as they perceive their home is no longer a safe haven.

Dr Nicolson, who was burgled herself nearly three years ago, said she was still apprehensive on returning home and found her behaviour dictated by the need to turn on a burglar alarm or listen to strange noises downstairs at night.

Couples can blame each other for allowing the burglars entrance by leaving the home unprotected. 'They even blame the dog and say, 'Why didn't you bark'?'

Victim Support, which works with victims of all crimes, sends out more than 500,000 leaflets to burglary victims each year with its workers being involved in 160,000 face- to-face visits. Most burglary victims, according to Dr Nicolson, believe that victim support is needed more in cases more serious than their own.

The research, which consisted of detailed interviews with 29 burglary victims in South and West Yorkshire, Nottingham and Greater London, was sponsored by the Frizzell Group of insurance companies. Colin Frizzel, company chairman, said it would use the results in the training of its staff in their dealings with victims.