How to beat the burglars this winter by Christopher Middleton appeared recently in the Telegraph, below are some interesting excerpts:
Who better than a burglar to point out the weaknesses in your home security? Christopher Middleton meets a reformed criminal to get the inside track on locking up this winter.
Winter is peak time for break-ins, with longer nights providing more cover. The recession hasn’t helped, either. Burglaries are up from 651,000 in 2009/10 to 701,000 in 2011/12. Now the Metropolitan Police has launched an Autumn Nights awareness campaign, alerting people to the increased risk of burglary in the run-up to Christmas.
This is a subject Michael Fraser is intimately familiar with, having experienced it from the other side of the fence. He spent his childhood breaking into houses, stealing everything from cash to credit cards to televisions (small ones only, burglars like to travel light).
He was saved when a factory owner gave him a job to keep him out of prison. Michael turned his back on a profitable life of crime (one burglar was recently reported to have stolen £75,000 worth of goods in one year). He now earns an honest living as a security adviser for burglar alarm and insurance firms.
“Trust me, the last thing a burglar wants is a confrontation with the owner,” says Michael. “But if he is forced into one, he may well panic, then all hell can break loose.
“The best strategy is to keep them out of your house in the first place.”
Which is not as hard as it seems. We might like to think that we were unlucky to be burgled, that it was just a matter of our house being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the fact is that far from the sophisticated cat burglars depicted in films such as The Thomas Crown Affair or Entrapment, burglars are mostly opportunistic. Many homes give off blatant “burgle-me” messages to the passing thief and that message doesn’t have to be wide-open windows and unlocked doors.
“It may seem strange, but a burglar is far more likely to bypass a house where the front gate is shut and go for a house, where the front gate is open,” explains Michael.
“The average burglar is always looking for signs. If a front gate is shut, it is likely that the homeowner is security conscious. The same applies if you have two locks on your front door.
“But if your gate is left swinging wide open, or you only have one lock, you are probably a bit lax. And if that applies around the front, it is likely to apply doubly around the back of your house.”
You should also think outside the home, he adds: your garden can tempt criminals, too.
“I was always looking for houses which had lots of tall trees and bushes to conceal me. Or I would look for corner houses, where there weren’t any neighbours who might spot what I was up to.”
Nor should we kid ourselves that burglars will be put off by the presence of pets.
“For a start, a cat flap seriously weakens a door,” adds Michael. “On top of which, you know that people who have pets often don’t turn on their burglar alarms because they don’t want their cat or dog to set it off. So when you see a sign saying ‘Beware of the dog’, you don’t walk past. Instead you think, ‘This could be the one for me’.”
Other tell-tale signs are garden tables and chairs that you can stand on to climb through a window, plus tools that you can use to break in.
“Of paramount importance to any burglar is the ability to get in and out of the house as quickly as possible,” he says. “Two minutes in the house should be long enough. The first thing you do is to put a milk bottle on the inside of the front doorknob. Then if the owner comes into the house, the bottle smashes and alerts you.
“The key thing is to have your escape route worked out in advance. These days you can go online and look at maps to plan your entry and exit.”
What to do if you have been burgled:
Look for the spare keys It is the first thing you should do. Burglars often steal your spare keys, so they can come back in a few days’ time to really clear you out. If you even suspect the keys are missing, change the locks.
Contact the police they will give you a crime number to quote in an insurance claim. They should also arrange for a crime prevention officer to advise on future security measures and give you a contact at Victim Support.
Secure the property
Once the police have been, repair all the doors and windows. Call your insurance company to ask if they offer a 24-hour service.
Take precautions against a repeat
Once a burglar has been inside your home, and got the hang of the layout, it gives him the confidence to return. You need to upgrade your security measures to thwart him. Clearly, it can only pay to be prepared. So as the nights draw in, make sure you scrutinise your home as a burglar might. That way you can be sure to stay one step ahead of even the nimblest criminal.
An ex-burglar’s advice to homeowners on how to make the bad guys bypass your home:
Start with the front door because that is what burglars do. If your front door looks tatty, or if it only has one cylinder lock (e.g. Yale), instead of a cylinder lock plus deadlock (mortise), it will catch a thief’s eye.
Don’t skimp on the alarm – buy one from a reputable, well-known company, burglars bypass the cheap systems and spot dummy alarms a mile off. For maximum security, alarms fitted with cameras allow you to view your home from your computer.
Defend your alley – Make sure your side gate does not have a convenient handle for the thief to step onto and over. Put some trellis on top, too. Burglars hate it because it snaps.
Keep things hidden – To the passing burglar, your sitting room is like a shop window. Use curtains and blinds, so it is difficult to see in. At the same time, make sure your window locks are visible.
Cage your letterbox on the inside – It is standard practice for burglars to put a long stick through your letterbox and “fish” your keys off the hall table. Not only will they be able to break into your house, but they will be able to steal your car, then take away more of your possessions.
Lock up your tools – View your shed or garage as an extension of your house. Put at least a couple of locks on the outside, plus wire on the window, so thieves can’t use your garden spade or fork to prise a door open.