The Christmas tree is bedecked with baubles and twinkling lights, and surrounded by piles of enticingly wrapped presents. It's a lovely sight. Especially to burglars.
Christmas is the busiest time in the burglar's calender. The reasons why the holiday season is such a bumper time for rich pickings are straightforward says Roy Emslie, crime prevention officer with the Metropolitan Police. Properties are, quite simply, more vulnerable at this time of year.
Homes are more frequently left empty in the whirlwind of shopping trips, social events and visits, while the elongated holiday break itself has encouraged more people to take a holiday, leaving their property unattended for even longer periods. Add to that the fact that the prospective booty is beautifully easy to target - conveniently left either in the hall or sitting room - and for burglars the situation is like ... well ... Christmas.
The statistics tell the story; burglaries from residential properties peak, not as commonly believed, in the traditional holiday month of August, but in the November to January period. Hero Brown was amongst the statistics last year, victim of one of the 24,000 burglaries reported to the Metropolitan Police in the November to January period. In her case, the burglars visited on Christmas day.
"We had gone to visit my parents in Wales, and spent a lovely Christmas day with the family," she says. "We were enjoying the break from London - in fact, we were in the middle of a country walk when we got the phone call. It seems the burglars had got in on Christmas morning. Our holiday came to an abrupt end and we went back to face a ransacked flat. Everything had gone - cameras, video recorders, jewellery and my brand new computer."
The burglars had made their entry through a communal front door that should have been secure, but the security lock had been left undone.
Paul Bickerstaffe also featured amongst the national statistics last year, although in his case the burglars managed to ruin his family's Christmas without even getting into the house. "We had bought bikes for the children, and to keep them as a surprise for Christmas stored them in the garden shed". A week before Christmas thieves helped themselves to both bikes, leaving Paul and his family bereft. "It wasn't just the cost, although there was no question of replacing them, it was the sheer audacity and callousness of the people who took them". Garden sheds are a very popular target with burglars, and an area of security often overlooked, even by people who are security conscious about the house itself.
However, it is precisely because most burglars are essentially opportunist, homing in on the weakest link in a property's security, that much that can be done to strengthen a property's defences - and deter burglars. Strong, secure doors with adequate locks (see box) are the first line of defence. Over half of all burglaries involve the thief gaining access from the back, so back doors and windows need at least as much attention as the front entrance. But security awareness and cooperation is equally vital - however advanced the specifications of the locking system a nifty thief can rapidly burgle several flats in one property given just one communal entrance carelessly left undone.
If you are going away, asking neighbours to check on the property. Leaving lights on during the evening can help, although city life often offers few opportunities for relying on neighbours given that you may not even know them. Consider letting friends house-sit - a solution that many urban dwellers are increasingly adopting.
No property is immune from the threat of burglary, but, as many of those who experience a burglary realise in retrospect, there is usually scope for making it more difficult for a would-be burglar to get the chance to spoil what should be nothing less than a joyful time.
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