Overview: The burglar who broke my nerve

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An almighty crashing noise just before midnight during one of the hottest days of the summer in London was the only evidence of a would-be burglar's frustration at not being able to climb in through what he thought was an open window.

An almighty crashing noise just before midnight during one of the hottest days of the summer in London was the only evidence of a would-be burglar's frustration at not being able to climb in through what he thought was an open window. After shinning up the drainpipe, he was confronted with a pane of secondary glazing, not visible from the street, at which he took a devastating swipe and brought us rushing in from the garden.

When the police arrived, they told us they were experiencing a rash of opportunistic crime due to exhausted Londoners leaving windows open in a vain attempt to cool their houses.

Security has become a prime issue for tenants and owners alike and builders in particular use it as a key selling point. But unless you are also locked into an air-conditioned environment, soaring temperatures will lower the guard of even the most nervous.

These days, good locks, strong doors and a basic alarm are by no means enough for many people. They want close-circuit cameras, swipe cards and remote controlled security systems. Strategically placed cameras enable owners to view their home while they are on the other side of the world and even see whether the cat has eaten its food. In fact, looking after the neighbours' cat while they are away can be fraught with difficulty in itself as you negotiate their sophisticated alarm system.

It does seem that security becomes addictive. No sooner has one barrier been installed than we crave the next, harder line of defence. In high-value developments this might involve monitoring by 24-hour guards. While this has particular appeal to foreign buyers, estate agents in Surrey found, initially at least, that some English owners rather disliked having all their comings and goings checked.

But British buyers are choosing gated communities in greater numbers. Local authorities who generally interpret the idea of community somewhat differently and do not want to see smart ghettos on their patch, know full well that such developments sell like hot cakes. And developers who make it their responsibility to provide what they believe to be the appropriate level of security suspect that involving purchasers in the detail would result in even more extravagant systems.

According to the latest Home Office's latest figures there were 437,064 recorded domestic burglaries in England and Wales for the previous year. That's a one per cent jump year on year, and may well be accounted for in the method of crime recording, explained a spokeswoman. But 3.5 per cent of the households interviewed by the British Crime Survey had experienced at least one burglary in the previous year.

While stories in the media of robberies involving violence are disturbing, does it really make us feel any happier to be surrounded by layers of sophisticated and hugely expensive systems or simply more anxious about the outside world?

Certainly for anyone to dismiss a burglary as a "property crime" is missing the point. As I discovered, home is the last refuge. To feel that you are not safe there is deeply unsettling.

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