When I arrived for work last week a colleague had left the Daily Mail’s story on burglary hotspots open on my desk. An apologetic post-it attached saying “sorry but I thought you’d want to see”.
My home village of Balerno topped the list of break-ins in the country. On the Sunday before Christmas I became another statistic to bear that reality out.
I had got home the night before around eight o’clock feeling pretty unwell with a seasonal lurgy. I got my three kids readied and into bed, slugged some Night Nurse and went straight to sleep.
I only awoke when 7 year old Hamish pounced into my bedroom asking “daddy where are the cars?”.
I got up and looked out the window in slow motion. Sure enough a big empty driveway. Urgh.
Your emotions swirl at times like that and having 3 children under nine years old the last thing you want is them to feel anything other than safe and content in their own home. So I played it cool and inspected the house.
No apparent signs of entry but the keys were gone from the table by the door. So was an iPhone I had left on a speaker dock. And, urgh again, a chunk of cash I had foolishly left out to give nieces and nephews for Christmas, and my wallet and cards.
It could have been much worse I guess. None of the other valuables were gone and the presents under the tree untouched. And, what a thought, they could have come upstairs but clearly didn’t. They had got what they wanted quickly and scarpered.
When the shock subsided the realisation of the cost in time, money and hassle started to dawn. I phoned the police.
Two young officers arrived pretty quickly and inspected the scene. They reckoned the thieves got the keys from the table by sticking a magnet on an extendable stick through the letter box. They took the statement helped me book a locksmith and went door to door round the street for evidence. One of my neighbours had the same thing happen a few months before.
Balerno is a great village. A real community spirit with lots of hard working families doing their best to raise kids and keep house and home together. Life for most is a busy juggle but the place pulls together and has each other’s back.
That we are invaded by this sort of scumbag behaviour is something we will have to remedy. The village police station closed and we understand why but that can’t have helped. The local MSP is on the case and police are stepping up patrols.
It seems the culprits move their focus to keep ahead of the police so nowhere is as safe as we would all like. Lessons to be learned for me.
In the moment I determined not to let it spoil Christmas for my kids and it didn’t. The next day a bin lorry careered out of control in Glasgow killing six souls. That brought perspective to my worry.
The only thing missing that I couldn’t replace was Hamish’s album of football cards that he had left in the backseat of one of the cars.
But over the subsequent month my life became a series of phone calls, statements, arguments and logistical headaches as I tried to make good the losses and wrestle with insurance companies.
The main car the nanny uses to transport the kids was recovered the next morning in Galashiels. Once police forensics had finished a colleague was good enough to drive me down on Christmas Eve. Covered in finger print dust at least it was unharmed. And there in the back was Hamish’s football album, ‘Happy Christmas son’.
They’d stolen sunglasses, chucked the record book away (why?) and taken a few pounds of cash I keep for parking. But other than that at least I had something to drive the children in over the holidays.
The police officer in charge of the case called me regularly. Their conduct I have to say was impeccable. Whether they’d catch the culprits I didn’t know.
A week later she phoned to say my other car was found crashed only a mile from the village. It wasn’t an overly expensive car but it was a rare Alfa Romeo Spyder that I loved. The youngster in his twenties (I wont know his identity until it gets to court) had driven it drunk. Gallus and stupid. Witnesses called the police and they apprehended him running along the road.
What pinned him to the car was his possession of another pair of my sunglasses and, no doubt, his DNA on the airbags. Whether the police can pin him to the housebreak and catch his accomplice remains to be seen. Failure to reveal the identity of your accomplice should be punished harshly.
The banks are quite good at getting your cards replaced quickly. The locksmith replaced the keys in minutes. What kills you though is the unbelievably frustrating treatment you go through with insurers.
They nickel and dime you out of every penny they can. They send investigators to try and catch you out. They place ludicrous values on your possessions that you have to work hard to fight back on. They delay. And delay. And delay.
It took mine weeks to decide a smashed car was a write off. The police officer concluded it was in minutes. Meantime you can forget the courtesy car your policy promises, you only get that if a stolen car is recovered and fixable. Go figure.
After speaking to 6 different companies handling the one car claim I reckon I made around 80 phone calls and wasted days of time.
When all is said and done I will be out of pocket to the tune of around £3000 and that’s before I pay for new security measures around the house.
I don’t know if it even makes economic sense pursuing insurance claims for much of it. I have had my eyes opened on that industry but that’s another story for another day.
I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy but I do keep perspective close and remember there are much worse things happening out there.
I thank my lucky stars I didn’t catch them at it because God alone knows what they would be capable of if startled.
I learned harsh simple lessons about hiding your keys in a safe place at night, though maybe having them quickly gettable saved me from a worse fate.
I will think very hard about who I insure with in future. I am buying trackers to fit on my cars. I have a court case to think about at some point, but now I am ready to move on.
I know the police are doing their best with the resources they have and that money doesn’t grow on trees, but I would like to see more of them about around my village and places like it. We all need to do more to protect our own possessions and the sanctity of our homes.
But I would very much like to see hard, hard justice being done to the culprits and people like them.