How to properly burglary-proof your house

Chris Menon

Burglaries can be hugely traumatic, the thought of a criminal in your home sorting through your most prized possensions and potentially endagering you and your family is an uncomfortable one. Here are some ways you can beat the burglars and make your home safe

It was a cold October evening in Palmers Green, North London, as David and Sally* arrived back home in his car. Unexpectedly, an unfamiliar woman was parked in her own car, blocking access to their drive. They asked her to move so they could park, which she seemed surprisingly reluctant to do. Eventually she did so, and David parked his car as normal. 

As David walked up the path to their Edwardian end of terrace, he thought it odd that the woman had only moved about 15ft down the road, but at 6.30pm it was already dark and getting cold so he went in and put the kettle on, glad to be home.

As soon as he entered the kitchen David noticed that the sash window in the morning room had been jemmied up four inches, the window locks having fortunately prevented easy access. There had also been an attempt to force the kitchen window.

"It feels extremely personal and intrusive having a stranger in the home, going through personal belongings"

After 40 years of living in their property, it was the first attempted break-in. The burglar had entered either via the side gate or over the back fence through the school that backs onto their property. 

Talking about it today, he says: “We must have disturbed them in the middle of breaking in and the woman in the car was probably an accomplice.” The police never caught them and he admits it left them feeling vulnerable. Since then they’ve improved their security, adding extra window locks, while installing an iron side gate, a burglar alarm and Hive lights that can be remotely turned on and off when they’re away.

 

The emotional impact

Access to David and Sally’s property was potentially made easier by the school that backs onto their property

Sally and David were fortunate that their home wasn’t actually entered as the emotional impact of a break-in can be huge, according to Dr Claire Nee, Director of Forensic Psychology at the University of Portsmouth. “Although burglary isn’t considered an interpersonal crime as the burglar very rarely meets their victim, it feels extremely personal and intrusive having a stranger in the home, going through and stealing personal belongings,” she explains. “The majority of people feel traumatised, angry and violated for a few days to a few weeks. Twenty-five per cent continue to suffer for months and some develop Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, imagining how the burglar got in and what they did once inside.”

Certainly, Sally and David’s property isn’t alone in having attracted the attention of burglars. There were an estimated 667,000 domestic burglary offences in England and Wales for the year to June 2017, as recorded in the Office for National Statistics’ Crime Survey.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales is a face-to-face victimisation survey in which a random sample of 35,000 people resident in households in England and Wales are asked about their experiences of a range of crimes in the 12 months prior to the interview. Estimates of incidents of domestic burglary are produced from the information collected.

Actual police figures for England and Wales over the same period were much lower, at 235,335. It’s quite a difference and a spokesperson for ONS explains why: “While burglary is typically well reported, in the case of attempted burglary and burglary resulting in no loss, many incidents will not get reported. In Scotland, the figures were much lower, with 16,299 crimes of housebreaking recorded by the police in Scotland; in Northern Ireland police recorded a total of 6,806 burglaries for the whole of 2017.

As you might expect, the regional disparities don’t end there. Price comparison site MoneySupermarket analysed more than 2 million home insurance quotes run on its website over the last two years (January 2016-December 2017 inclusive) to identify the postcodes with the highest and lowest rate of claims for home contents theft within a five year period.

Guildford postal district GU3 has risen to the top of the rankings with a rate of 52.31 claims per 1,000 quotes. Of the postcodes with at least one claim for theft, Bideford in North Devon (EX39) has the lowest rate with 0.78 claims per 1,000 quotes. There are also 101 postal districts with no recorded claims.

"Signs that a dog or cat is moving around shows there's no alarm set, so you know that you can get in"

Kevin Pratt, consumer affairs expert at MoneySuperMarket, says: “This year’s claims analysis suggests burglaries fall into two main categories: crimes committed in wealthy suburbs, where thieves expect rich pickings and a degree of seclusion, and busy urban areas, where strangers attract little attention and burglars hope to make speedy getaways.

 “We should bear in mind that many criminals are opportunists—if they see a soft target, they’ll pounce. That makes it crucial for everyone, regardless of where they live, to always be vigilant and to take the necessary steps to keep burglars at bay,” he adds.

There are a number of things you can do to avoid becoming one of these statistics:

 

Professional advice

Reformed burglar Michael Fraser now works in security

Michael Fraser, a reformed burglar, former television presenter and now security consultant, says burglars are looking for weaknesses that mean they can enter a property with relative ease. “If they can see into the property and there are no window locks, and valuables are on show, a burglar will be attracted to that. It shows that people aren’t that careful with their possessions.

“A burglar will look at the front door and see if it has only one single cylinder lock, that can be opened in seconds rather than an additional five-lever mortice lock. Even if it has two locks, they’ll test the door with a foot to see if the lock is engaged. If the door moves 2-3mm they know it isn’t engaged and they can gain entry. They will also look through the letterbox to check if there’s a letterbox cage to prevent them fishing keys with a pole.”

Fraser also blows away some common misconceptions. For example, he explains that the presence of a dog or cat in a property does not act as a deterrent. “Signs that a dog or cat is moving around shows you that there’s no alarm set in that property, so you know you can get in,” he explains. Indeed, cat flaps weaken doors and make it easier to kick them in or fish for your keys.

Fraser says the best place to store valuables is in the loft. “A burglar will go into the loft if they’re brave but not many choose to because once they do, they’re stuck and there’s no easy escape route. It’s also a good idea to store bags and suitcases up there, so the burglar can’t use them to carry away the things you store elsewhere.”

Of course, common sense also plays a part. Lock up garden sheds and tidy away tools so they can’t be used to break into your property, don’t advertise you’re on holiday on social media or have a window-facing calendar that has your daily whereabouts on it. If you do go away for a few weeks get a trusted neighbour to remove mail. Moreover, lock up and switch on burglar alarms even if you’re just popping out for a short while.

Fraser also points out that one thing online estate agents won’t tell you is that burglars use their sites to shop for likely targets, identifying expensive properties for further research. If your house is up for sale be careful about the level of detail and the photos you provide.

“Any burglar will tell you that the more they know about a property, the more confident they can be about being able to burgle it,” he explains.

 

Protecting your property

In Fraser’s view, security products that do actually deter burglars include: CCTV, motion-activated security lights and burglar alarms. Properties that display stickers stating that they are part of a Neighbourhood Watch scheme are also less likely to be targeted by a burglar.

Similarly, fake burglar alarms are easily identified by the lack of wiring and Fraser says burglars are aware of people using fake baked bean cans and books to store cash, credit cards and jewellery.

Fraser is also not a fan of using automatic timer switches to turn on lights while you’re away from home, as he thinks they’re too predictable.

Lastly, he recommends that people watermark their valuables and advertise this fact with a sticker displayed in their window. This will deter burglars as the stolen goods can easily be traced.