If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Householders and burglars

I'm not a violent person. In fact, I don't think I have ever struck anyone in anger in my life. I've had a few bundles when I worked (briefly) as a bouncer, and I once (gently) slapped a woman who had become hysterical. But actually hitting someone with the intent to hurt them - never.

This householder/burglar thing disturbs me, though. If I ever woke up in the night to find someone in the house, or even in the bedroom, I really don't know what I'd do. I used to own a shotgun, and a lot of my neighbours keep theirs under the bed for just this occasion, but I am no Tony Martin and I always kept it well locked away. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have the malice to kill someone just for nicking my TV, and the consequences if the gun was taken from me don't bear thinking about.

Equally, I wouldn't say to myself "well, it's only property, and it's not as if it matters in the great scheme of things, so I'll pull the duvet over my head and report it in the morning". I would be frightened and furious - a very dangerous combination in anyone.

I once had advice on this from a policeman, off the record. His advice was to arm yourself, but with something non-lethal. A torch, a big, heavy one, was the best. After all, if you batter an intruder to jam with a baseball bat it starts to look a bit premeditated, especially if, like me, you have no kids on the premises and the last time you played rounders was in primary school. But what jury would ever criticise a householder for carrying a torch while investigating noises in the dark? The advice was to carry it over your shoulder, pointing forward, with a finger on the on/off button. When you find the intruder, switch it on. And while he is temporarily blinded by the light, bring the torch down over your head onto his cranium. You're unlikely to do him permanent harm, but he won't be getting up for a while.

So now I have a heavy Maglite about 15" long under the bed in easy reach, and I know what to do with it. And I would use it, without a doubt. Because I would be afraid, but also very, very angry.

The police (official version) would say that you should not confront the intruder, but call them and let them deal with it. Ha. Bloody. Ha.
  • For one thing, the phone lines are easily cut, and there is no mobile signal in the bedroom end of the house
  • For another, the nearest neighbour is a good half-mile away
  • For yet another, I have lived here 20 years, and have seen the police here four times - three to check on my gun storage arrangements and once to ask if we had seen anything following a break-in to someone's garage. I doubt if the police even know where we are, let alone get here in time to deal with a critical situation
  • And for another, if they turned out, and if they found the house, and if they caught the intruder, what would happen? My guess would be nothing.
Luckily, I live in a low-crime area, and the likelihood of being burgled is low. But the thought is always there - what if?

And what if I heard noises in the night and picked up my torch to investigate, and found one of these?

Cold-calling police are to pose as burglars to drive home their safety message. Householders whose homes are an easy target could be woken in the middle of the night by officers trying windows and doors. The initiative, code-named Operation Golden, is being launched in a bid to cut break-ins.

It is being trialled by Cheshire Police, who say residents who fall foul of their checks will be roused with a lecture from officers on what they could have lost.

Assaulting A Police Officer carries a heavy penalty - rightly - and I'm sure I would going daaaahn for a long time.

What is going on? First they were breaking into your car, then giving you your stuff back with a warning. Now they are going to burgle your house and then get you up for a ticking-off. I think I could easily lose my patience at that point.

It's a serious issue, though. In an ideal world (and one I remember being something like it within living memory), we would have a police force that responded to people in distress, and arrested offenders, and a judicial system that put them behind bars to stop them doing it again. Then we could all sleep easy in our beds and there would be no need for torches, or guns, or cricket bats, or vigilante-style activity. But now, I have no confidence that the police would even leave the station for a minor thing like a burglary (too busy prosecuting motorists for eating an apple), and if they did catch anyone the worst they would receive would be a slap on the wrist.

As far as I am concerned, human rights are a two-way street. If you break the law, you remove yourself from the protection of the law. You don't want me to come at you with a heavy implement? Then don't break into my house. Simple.

It reminds me of an old, but relevant, joke. Stop me if you've heard it.

A man wakes in the middle of the night after hearing a noise. He looks out of the window to see two youths in his shed. He phones the police to report the intruders.

"Sorry, Sir, there's no-one available at the moment. You aren't in any danger, so let them get on with it, go back to bed and report it in the morning."

He isn't happy with this, so he goes outside, apprehends them and ties them up with garden twine. He waits a few minutes and then phones the police again.

"It's OK, no need to rush. I've shot them."

Within minutes, the air is full of police helicopters, there are six pursuit vehicles on his drive, police snipers on his roof, and officers in riot gear and bulletproof vests are swarming over his garden.

He calls the senior officer over and points out the youths, tied up and upset, but alive.

"Sir, I thought you said you had shot them."

"And I thought you said you had no-one available!"


  1. Trying really hard to be outraged over this.

    Police to Curb Home Invasions

    But it's just so ridiculous that it's difficult not to view it as comedy.

    ...like something Inspector Clouseau would endorse.

  2. Yep, that's the story I mentioned.


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