Burglary: ‘The Thieves Must Have Watched As We Left For The Airport’

‘Our week in Sicily was a treat my husband Harry and I had planned a while back and we were counting down the days. We were booked into a little hotel at the foot of Mount Etna and were looking forward to someone else doing the cooking and clearing up for a week. Sicily is a real hot spot in the Slow Food movement with new exciting wines being produced on Mount Etna. So all the boxes were ticked – great food, great scenery and, even in autumn, great weather.
 
On day four of our stay, we were sitting on the terrace of our hotel with far-reaching views of the sea in one direction and the stunning sight of Etna in the other. With a delicious glass of local wine in hand, the biggest decision of the evening was what to have for dinner. Then my text went off (even on holiday I am unhealthily attached to my phone). It was our neighbour asking why our front door was open.

For just a moment, we thought maybe we hadn’t locked the door properly – the joy of flying with Ryan Air meant we left home at 4am. But then we scrolled our minds back, re-living our departure and knew we had. Suddenly I started to feel quite sick and shaky. In tears, I rang my sister, who lives around the corner from us, and she immediately despatched her husband round with their set of front door keys. She rang back a few minutes later; yes we’d been burgled. My brother-in-law rang the police and did his best to secure the flat. He wasn’t that sure what had been taken except for the obvious – TV, stereo, laptop … and the only positive note in this whole nightmare scenario was that our home hadn’t been trashed.

We didn’t have a burglar alarm, but all the windows had locks on them. Not that they’d helped – the police reckon the thieves had used a hammer and chisel to push up the window as far as the locks, then get someone small through the gap who then broke the locks with a hammer.

It was too late in the evening to find a flight but the hotel staff were amazing – despatching two medicinal brandies our way. We went to bed feeling utterly dreadful, barely slept then we were up and ready to find a flight out to get us back home. Again, the hotel staff were great and found a flight for us the next day. I was just in a daze – with an awful knot in my stomach which just wouldn’t go away. We were just desperate to get home and find out what had been taken.

Shock of discovery

When we arrived home, we walked through the front door and into our dining room which is pretty much open plan with the sitting room and kitchen. Our belongings were all over the floor, as the burglars had pulled out the contents of the cupboard to unplug the stereo. Both our computers were gone.

Then we went upstairs to our bedroom, where, again, stuff lay all over the floor, as they’d emptied out luggage to fill with my jewellery. They’d taken the lot, including every scrap of costume jewellery and, worst of all, rings that belonged to my late mother and cufflinks Harry had inherited from his grandfather.

The police were convinced they had watched our flat so they knew we had gone on holiday and therefore had time to rifle through everything. They’d even stolen our car to transport everything and brought it back again! We knew this because the car had been moved and it is usually immaculately clean. The telling evidence was the fag ash and bits of rubbish on the floor, and they’d moved the driver’s seat forward – short burglars, obviously. That first night I realised they’d taken my work handbag with my diary and wallet in it, which triggered real panic as I tried to cancel cards and change passwords with the bank. But it took days to realise every item that had gone – an antique silver and amber necklace bought in Istanbul…Harry’s air rifle…on it went.

Our insurance company and the police asked us to write a full list of what was taken, broken down into electrical equipment, jewellery and miscellaneous. The latter would cover the Furla handbag, make-up, scented candles, and all the other early Christmas presents I’d bought – female burglar, perhaps?

We had to dig out receipts, serial numbers, proof of purchase. (Have you got a receipt for a handbag or a piece of costume jewellery you bought five years ago?)There is a huge amount of admin involved after a burglary and because it was such a long list, our insurers handed it over to loss adjusters, who deal with each section of goods and quiz you over the phone. And then we had to go back to work, Harry with no phone, me with no laptop or diary. Trying to find pictures of myself wearing jewellery when my camera and laptops had been stolen was a challenge. I hardly wear a lot of jewellery when I’m on holiday and that’s when most photos are taken (although hardly ever of your hands, it turns out). It took just over a month to sort everything out and that sick feeling in my stomach – and Harry’s – was still there.

Making changes

The worst bits? Knowing that someone has been in your home and that they have taken completely irreplaceable items which they probably sell off for a tenner, like my Mum’s rings and Harry’s late father’s backgammon set. The police found fingerprints on the outside of the front window where they broke in, but real life is not like CSI and we are still waiting for forensics to inform us if the prints were of any use.

Our local Crime Prevention officer paid us a visit to advise on security. He was amazed that we’d never been burgled in the seven years since we moved here. The streets where we live in North London are perfect stalking grounds for burglars, apparently – no through traffic, Victorian houses with wooden bay windows and front gardens, lots of people out at work or college all day.

We are now fully alarmed and have tasteful-as-possible iron bars on our front windows. I’ve cut back the huge hydrangea in the front garden so the front of the house no longer provides cover for any potential burglars.Harry and I have been left weary and fed up by the whole thing, and I’m now a little bit paranoid about safety and security.

We didn’t sleep well for over a month, until all the security was in place. But at least we still have each other, nobody was hurt, our flat wasn’t damaged and we feel safe in our own home now so, eventually, life will start to feel normal once again. Now you’ve read this, please don’t let it happen to you.’

What I’ve learned…

I’m glad we…
– Had contents insurance with a reputable company who were brilliant – M&S Home Insurance.
– Had travel insurance which we take out yearly.
– Had serial numbers of all the computer, audio and video equipment.
– Left spare keys with family.
– Locked our Apple devices remotely upon return.

I wish we…
– Had photographed all our jewellery.
– Had kept even more receipts.
– Had backed up all our photographs.
– Hidden precious items better.

We have now…

– Installed an alarm which covers every room in the flat.
– Had iron bars installed on the front windows.
– Put lights on timer switches.
– Installed a sensor light at the front door.
– Had much stronger window locks fitted.

For home security advice from the police, visit content.met.police.uk/Site/crimepreventionhomesecurity

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