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Section 25, Theft Act 1968

When I used to teach statistics, one way of engaging the brains of students was to offer £5 to anyone who could find a copy of the British Journal of Psychiatry without a statistical error. I never lost my fiver in those far-off days before computers.

I used a similar trick when teaching criminology. The fiver could go to anyone who could think of any invention which had not given rise to a new crime. I never lost that fiver either. For instance, mobile ‘phones were meant to make us all safer: but they gave rise to a huge increase in robbery and are now the weapon of choice of those who bully and harass, deal in drugs or terrorism and there is now even a handy app to detonate bombs remotely.

My cell in Wandsworth in the ’60s had four layers of bars. The first was the Victorian cast-iron window frame, found to be easily broken with a heavy stone. So steel bars were added, but then along came hacksaws. That demanded another layer of steel bars, this time hardened. But the hacksaws got smaller and the blades got sharper. So the outer layer was steel containing carborundum which blunted the blades so quickly that you could not smuggle enough into the prison.

Electric hand tools transformed burglaries so much that the British Standard for locks had to be adapted because of battery-powered drills. The latest strike is from battery-powered axle-grinders. They can get through outboard engine chains in a few sparks and a jiffy and, this month, over 25 engines have gone from around the Harbour, including three from South Pool. This is unlikely to be a new crime wave as much as the work of fewer than half a dozen villains: but they use the old trick of burglars with televisions – wait a week for the victim to get a brand new motor on insurance and strike again, so that it gets better all the time.

These miserable offenders will no doubt be caught sooner or later and peace will return while they contemplate the inside of the latest technology in prison window frames. They may not be caught in flagrante, of course, but patrolling the Harbour clutching a portable axle-grinder is an offence in itself. Section 25 of the Theft Act 1968 refers, 3 years, milord. In the meantime, beware and do not make it too easy for them.

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