A barrister’s heartbreaking account of how the police cannot devote sufficient resources to make people feel safe in their own homes any longer. Or when policing comes down to one word. Resources.
First published in November 2020.
You wake up in bed with your partner, your little ones are asleep in their bedrooms. It’s 3am.
You hear a noise downstairs. It sounds like a scraping and a scuffling. You realise it’s someone either trying to get into your house, or someone is in your house.
You nudge your partner.
“Do you hear that?”
Your partner is drowsy and says no.
You say, “listen”.
Your adrenaline is pumping. Your first thought is for the kids, your second is how to arm yourself in case they come upstairs. Your third is telling yourself this can’t be real.
The scuffling and scraping stops.
You hear footsteps.
Then, the front door slams.
Have they gone? Your partner is alert now, and both of you are on your feet, the lights are on. Your partner goes to check on the children, they are both asleep.
You go downstairs. It’s a mess.
They’ve got in somehow, they have ransacked your kitchen drawers and gone through the living room.
It takes a while to figure out what is missing. Then, you notice the drive is empty. A handbag and contents are missing. Some items have gone from the living room. A games console, your child’s school bag, some sports equipment, an iPhone, a laptop. All taken.
You phone 999.
The operator connects you to the police.
The kids wake up and are sitting on the stairs. The little one is crying.
“Have the offenders gone?” The operator asks.
“Yes. With the car.”
“Are you sure there is no one in the house?”
“Yes, they’ve taken our stuff and gone in our car.”
“I’m sorry but we can’t get anyone out to you right now, we will send someone out as soon as possible.”
Your partner is shaking. No one feels safe in the house. What if the burglars come back?
You can’t work out which keys are missing.
Can you tidy the house up or is it a crime scene?
“CSI will come out later on, try not to touch potential points of entry and footprints.”
But later becomes later and later. You’re all left in the house alone, wondering when help will come.
At 4pm, CSI come and go, but the police don’t attend.
The next day a police officer calls to make an appointment to take your statement. By this time, you have changed the locks and called your insurance company. You don’t feel like you want to live in your house anymore.
“Do you have any CCTV? If we don’t get anything back from forensics and there’s no CCTV you need to be prepared for this to be unresolved.”
At least she’s honest, you think to yourself. You wondered what you’d been expecting. Blue lights racing up your drive? Door to door witness enquiries of neighbours? Local CCTV checks? A reassuring immediate presence in your hour of terror? Maybe even a local patrol picking up your car as it sped away. ANPR enquiries...?
Any of that.
“Did you have Find My iPhone activated?” The police officer asks you.
“Have you tried calling your local cash converters to see if your things are there?”
What is this, DIY policing?
Then, remarkably, two months later you get a phone call. CSI found a fingerprint and it matched to that of a local burglar, who has been arrested.
BRILLIANT, you think. We may even get our stuff back.
The officer informs you that you won’t get any of your stuff back. The suspected burglar has been released under investigation. This is like bail, but isn’t bail, they say. It just means he’s gone home while the case is left to be worked on. He had been interviewed, and he told the officers that he used to fit windows.
Because the only fingerprint was on the outside of the house on a windowsill, the police need time to check when the windows were installed and by whom, and whether he worked for the companies involved.
“OK, how long will that take?” You ask.
The answer is fairly non-committal.
Weeks pass, weeks turn into months.
Nine months later you call for an update. He still hasn’t been charged.
The first company came back with a statement, but the police haven’t taken a further statement from you about when you moved in and whether the windows had been installed since then, how often they were cleaned.
Nine months become 14.
You move home, unable to sleep. The children were having nightmares about “the bad men” coming back; the youngest was bed-wetting. You can’t tell them the men have been caught.
The car was eventually found but it had been crashed and was written off. The police said they couldn’t recover any evidence from inside it. You don’t know if they tried or not, nor how long it had been left crashed and abandoned.
Eventually the police tell you that they have released their suspect without charging him, because someone else accepted responsibility for the burglary in an offence that was Taken Into Consideration. The police explain that this means they confessed to it as part of a deal. You aren’t told who the person was.
Four years later, you get a phone call.
“We think we’ve found your laptop, would you like to come to the station to identify it and collect it?”
Bloody hell, you think to yourself. OK.
“It was in a room in a house with 300 stolen laptops.”
You go along to the police station. It isn’t your laptop.
You go home.
Variations of this experience are now common in respect of household burglaries across England and Wales. It is not the police’s fault.
They WANT to do more for you. They WANT to rush up your drive the moment you call 999. They WANT to hare after thieves and burglars in your car.
Sometimes, but only because of sheer luck, they are resourced sufficiently on a particular day to be able to respond. Most of the time though, they are not.
I prosecute and defend burglaries all the time. A lot of the time, CSI don’t attend at all. In one case I prosecuted, a PC put in so many hours the crime was solved and a burglar prosecuted and convicted at Crown Court within 4 months. That case was so rare I tweeted about it at the time.
It would be wonderful if the police could devote sufficient resources to make people feel safe in their homes. It would be wonderful if officers could police as they did in the ‘old’ days, going around giving preventative advice about home security.
So, all I say is this. Thanks for the offer of £16bn for defence spending in space Boris, but until people can sleep soundly in their beds on the ground, you’re missing the Big Picture in respect of what is needed in this country.
- Fund the Police
- Fund the Courts
- Fund the CPS
- Fund the Legal Aid System
Without this funding, on the rare occasions when burglars are arrested and charged, it is taking YEARS for their cases to be heard in Court. This is not justice for those families who have been burgled, and it isn’t justice for those accused of burglary either.
It means that potential burglars have the opportunities to commit many more offences, it means criminals are quite literally “getting away with it”. And the delay means that when the minority who are convicted are sentenced, they receive much shorter sentences for their crimes.🔷
Note: I have prosecuted burglaries. I have defended burglars. I have defended people who have been found not guilty of burglaries. I have had my own home burgled. I have directly or indirectly experienced everything I have written in this thread. It is the truth.
CrimeGirl, Barrister who specialises in Criminal Law, Military Law, Disciplinary and Inquests.
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