Police offensive against capital's burglars nets 453 suspects: Rhys Williams joins officers on an early-morning house call as part of Operation Bumblebee

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The Independent Online
IT IS 6am at a house in west London. Three knocks on the front door. 'It's the police.' No answer. A ring of the doorbell, a tap on the window. A shout through the letterbox: 'Hello? It's the police.'

A man tears back a curtain, leans out of an upstairs window and yells into the rain: 'What the hell's going on? Who are you? I've got my three kids sleeping up here.'

The house is one of 507 addresses across the capital yesterday to receive an early morning call from Operation Bumblebee, the Metropolitan Police's anti-burglary initiative.

Minutes later the man reappears at the door in his underpants, shouting his innocence. 'I haven't burgled for a long time. I smoked some crack, that's how bad it is. I've been living by the book for three years and looking after my kids.'

'What's the herb,' an officer asks from the kitchen. 'That's my mother's thyme, man. If I had some Rizlas and some draw, I'd roll up for you to have a smoke. I used to break people's houses, but I don't do that no more.' Upstairs a child begins to cry.

A neighbour is fetched from across the road to mind the children while the suspect is taken down to Hammersmith police station for questioning. Detective Constable Paul Callard opens the car door: 'They all say they've stopped since they had children, but they always carry on.' The man later confesses, and is charged and bailed to appear in court next month.

Operation Bumblebee was originally set up in north London in 1991 and extended to the whole capital in June. Specialist burglary squads in each of the Met's eight areas promote crime prevention, analyse patterns of theft and draw up intelligence on known offenders through surveillance and tip-offs. They work on the basis that a core of about 300 people are responsible for two-thirds of London break-ins. The capital-wide dawn raid strategy is Operation Bumblebee's highest profile aspect. Raids on 1,199 addresses last June and July led to 853 arrests, and 465 people being charged. According to early figures, 453 people were arrested in yesterday's third wave.

Commander Tony Comben, head of Bumblebee, said that it was too early to know how many of those arrested in the summer had been convicted: 'It can be a year to 18 months between arrest and an eventual acquittal or conviction in court. What I can say is that the vast majority of those arrested will be charged and that the number of cases solved will far exceed the number of people arrested.'

Mr Comben believed the operation had not only halted a 35-year-long increase in domestic burglary in London, but had hastened a dramatic decline.

From July to September this year, it fell by 13 per cent compared with the same three months last year - that means 3,000 fewer homes were robbed during those months. In the year ending September, Hammersmith division is reporting a 14.3 per cent drop.

The operation began as a response to increasing public disenchantment with the police's apparent inability to combat domestic burglary.

Detective Chief Inspector Michael Fuller, who heads the specialist squad in Hammersmith, said: 'Burglary has such a traumatic effect on individuals that we feel it's an important priority. People should feel safe in their own homes. The publicity generated (by Bumblebee) shows the public that we are concerned about the problem.'

Among the items recovered in Fulham yesterday was a judge's wig. The hairpiece belongs to Recorder Hugh Carlisle QC and was stolen last year from his private chambers at Isleworth Crown Court, west London.

'We didn't have any problems finding out who it belonged to,' a police spokesman said. 'It's got his name in it and there was a cutting from the Sun about the theft with it.'

(Photograph omitted)