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“Cut backs mean criminals are exploiting the economic deficit”: What really happens when you’re burgled

Tough on cheeseburgers. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

When she suffers a break-in, Emma Jones is left with no alternative but to turn DIY detective.

As needs must, I’ve come up with my own plan to help Sadiq Khan improve the clear-up rate for crimes in the capital, so the mayor can concentrate on more pressing matters, like tackling obesity.

My solution is a real-life, modern detective story, featuring a ‘sassy female’, (they’re always called sassy) – a regular-mum-turned-vigilante crime-fighter. Set on the mean streets of south east London, the heart of the grime’n’crime scene, where chicken shops are found on every corner, and unhealthy eating choices are rife.

Waking up on Tuesday, after the Bank Holiday weekend, I was a little bleary eyed. I couldn’t find the car keys. Standard stuff. Daughter number three and I were going be late for the school run. We shared a healthy breakfast ‘to-go’ (an apple and some of my protein bars from the gym.)

After my daughter was walked to school it only took me a dozen searches of the living room to realise I had misplaced my lap top. And it was only after another 20 minutes of interrogating other family members before I deduced, Columbo-like, that my new MacBook Pro was gone. The rucksack, where I put the house keys, was gone too. Ditto, the car keys, the car (this theft is at least logical), my bike, purse and bank cards, my son’s birthday money, medication, personal stuff – all vanished overnight. A horrible feeling crept in.

While we were asleep, someone had been stalking around inside our house, taking our stuff. Strangely, some work tools were also missing – a old hammer and some copper nails.

I called the police and they said they would send someone round. This might be a while. They shut down the police station last year. Fifteen minutes passed and I got a call to say to the police wouldn’t be coming – they would do it ‘remotely’ (on the phone).

Hopes rose when, a bit later a man arrived, to have a look round. For glass or blood-stains, he said. I wondered if fingerprints might be more productive than raking over the coals of a domestic incident a week ago, that the neighbours must have told him about.

Hopes fell when it turned out he was not a police officer. ‘I am a civilian support worker’ he admits with a limp smile. ‘Have you thought of putting in extra locks,’ he added with the salience of a farm-hand shutting a stable door after the horse has died.

He then muttered something about ‘cut backs’, and ‘nothing he can do’, and off he went. I wondered if he got a call-out fee.

I pulled my shoulders back, and took a deep breath.

So, the detective work falls to me.

It means I’ll have to take the day off work but I get to play Mary Beth Lacey (sadly, all my Christine Cagney’s seem to be busy.)

The only clue I have, is that in the night, I woke-up and smelt something bad.

What was it? I’ve lived in London long enough. It’s familiar. ‘Less a fragrance, than an effect,’ like Molecule 01, as sold at the Liberty perfume counter.

No, it’s ‘Eau de Crack Head.’ ‘A blend of unwashed body, chemical compound and top notes of ass.’

So, I have only my nose to guide me. Like Patrick Süskind’s anti hero, John Baptiste. I go on foot, my sinuses focused. What clues would I find next?

The cat is wrestling with a slice of pepperoni.

But we’re a vegetarian household. Maybe the burglar was driven to crime because of a junk food addiction?

Maybe he left it at the crime scene, a single fingered salute, to the Mayor’s latest initiative.

I scour backstreets, close-by. And, Hey Presto! Two minutes away, in I find one of our bags abandoned. All the valuable stuff’s gone, but I’m on the trail.

Based on careful analysis of the facts (he had previously expressed an intense interest in the missing tools), I conclude that the main suspect is the local crack addict.

That night, my partner finds him hiding in the bushes close-by, and calls 999. The police arrive but say there’s ‘nothing we can do’ and suggest that it mightn’t be him, and the car may have been stolen to order.

My partner points out that it’s 22-years-old Toyota with 140,000 miles on the clock.

The next day, I hone-in on my stolen bike – for sale, on the local flea market. ‘That’s is my bike,’ I tell the overweight Ghanian guy, packing away his stall. ‘You are going to give it to me.’

Fat George, seeing the maniacal look in my eye, is weighing up whether I will strike or he might miss dinner if there is a drawn out row, says ‘take the bike’.

It feels like a partial justice, but I still feel violated and want my car back. And, curiously, I feel an intense affinity for a hammer and copper nails I must have suppressed all my adult life.

The car is an old banger, bought for £600 quid. Without it, I can’t take kids camping in the summer. Which we all hate, so that would be the upside of its loss.

However, I need it for my other job, for lumping massive pieces of furniture around.

I don’t tell the kids about the theft, as I fear that the thought of burglars breaking into the house in the night, while they’re asleep might scare them. Am I coddling?.

I ask my son why he’s home early from school. He tells me, with a sense of ennui, that there’s been double stabbing and they’re are on curfew, ‘so we got sent home early. Again!’

It seems to him, sheltered from the horrors of domestic burglary, that knifings are such a yawn now, especially just before GCSEs.

Yes, but did you have a healthy lunch, I ask him?

Two days later, daughter three and I are working back from school.

We make the breakthrough in the case. Well, she does. She spots him. I found my Cagney – and the next clue.

Yes, she see him. Steve. That’s the family name for the car. She runs towards him. I’m not sure. ‘Yes, it is him!’ the nine-year-old Cagney rejoices.

I sigh when I see the luminous parking ticket from Steve’s grey corpse, and call the cops.

I sigh, when I see that none of the missing property – not even the hammer and nails – is there.

But I sigh the most, when I see that the bag of ‘vintage’ clothes, pressed upon me by a friend, who refuses to chuck things out, and has no sense of the rag trade, is still there.

The sense of violation returns.

For the love of God, couldn’t they at least have taken that, off my hands!?

There’s an empty Greggs’ donut bag in the footwell of the passenger seat.

I don’t have my forensic equipment to hand. Sloppy I know, but I have fallen out of the habit of bringing my CSI gear on the school run.

We will come, the police say. But eight hours later, still no sign.

The sunroof is open. It’s about to rain. The thief took our only keys, so I can’t shut it.

It’s not until the next day, after five phone calls and several emails, that the Five-O turn-up, ready to take to car to the police pound to check for evidence.

In the four days since this crime, I have looked after family, worked my various jobs, prepared and delivered a presentation to camera and been to a memorial of an ex-colleague.

In addition, I have given my emergency cash to a crippled homeless guy trying to use a carrier bag to hold-up his broken trousers.

Lifted weights, rowed and walked more than 20k. Not bad for a DIY cop. I also worked out who did this crime. Which I could have done from my bed, as he’s literally the world’s worst criminal, and he only lives across the road. He started going downhill, since he made the transgression last year, from alcoholism to hard drugs. Unhealthy choices.

The police say they are aware of him, as he’s gormlessly broken into all the parking meters by ours in broad daylight – using tools he steals in burglaries. But ‘there’s nothing we can do’ until they find the missing piece of evidence that will link him to the crime.

‘Have you ever thought of looking for it?’ I mutter,in what I what I thought, was in a voce sufficiently sotto? But they heard me. Seems they can detect things, when they want to.

On the telly, I see Sadiq Khan launching his new anti-junk food campaign. I scream.

Eventually, five days later, a nice young PCSO comes around. It takes him a bit of time to find the door, but a neighbour helps him out.

He writes down carefully and precisely what I’ve already emailed to the police (since I am reading it to him from my earlier email to him). He finally suggests we grow some spiky bushes, which might capture intruders’ DNA next time, should they get over the wall.

I finally suggest that he starts trying to solve the crime rather than giving me Gardeners’ Question Time live.

The reality is this: if you’re burgled, the legwork will be left to you, and you might have to develop an interest in anti-personnel horticulture.

In the paper, Sadiq Khan says he doesn’t think he, or the police, have done much wrong addressing the crime wave in London.

But they haven’t done much right either. Burglaries reportedly rose by 20 per cent in 2017.

Cut backs mean criminals are exploiting the economic deficit, and focusing on minor crime; they know won’t get investigated.

On the way home, I see adverts all over the tube, telling people to join the police force for £30k-a-year. But the romance has gone. No one wants to. Not even mini-Cagney.

It’s sad to see.

I don’t see any junk food ads, because Sadiq has banned them.

Tough on cheeseburgers. Tough of the causes of cheeseburgers.

For the first time in 31 years, I could murder a quarter pounder.

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