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Tackling Distraction Burglary

Opening address from the Chair 
Distraction Burglary Conference: Bexhill
27 February 2002

Crimes change all the time.  Old crimes mutate and new crimes are invented.  Most people here will be familiar with that.  One example is that we are currently wrestling with an increase in street robbery as the result of the invention of mobile phones.

Changing crime patterns need changing responses. I very much welcome this week’s decision by mobile phone companies to prevent stolen phones being able to be used on any of the UK’s five mobile phone networks.  That should make life safer for all of us.

At one time it was simply too easy to steal a car.  Immobilisers have put an end to that.  Few, if any, factory-immobilised cars have ever been stolen. The main way to steal them now is to break in to someone’s house to get the keys – usually they are left conveniently in the hallway.

Over the last few years burglaries have fallen significantly in the UK, and across Europe.  Part of this is due to better detection techniques, including increasing use of DNA.  Prolific offenders are now being targeted effectively and being caught quicker as a result.  But part of the decrease is due to improved house security. Some houses are getting significantly difficult to get into.

So some thieves have to try another approach.  Bluff your way in.  Say you are reading the gas meter, or checking the plumbing, or need a drink, or need to go to the lavatory.  Say the roof needs mending, but recognise that the householder may not be able to inspect it or do anything about it themselves.

In short, forget about breaking windows: instead, abuse people’s trust so that they let you in.  The victims will be helpful, even kind, to offenders who will then steal belongings, even lifetime savings.

Tackling this kind of burglary – distraction burglary – requires some technology and some change in human behaviour.  Today we are going to hear about both.  Better door security involves secure fittings: but there is no point having them unless they are convenient to use and users feel comfortable with them.

But there is also work to be done to help people not to be shy about checking identities, and being more in control over people who seek entry to their house, or seek to work on their home. We will be hearing about that also today.

This event has been organised by the Distraction Burglary Unit at the Home Office.  I also very much welcome the engagement of partners today from the utilities and from Trading Standards who have been energetic in this area. By joining up these efforts we should get much better protection for the potential victims of this crime. That is what this event must achieve.

Address given by Hugh Marriage OBE
Crime Reduction Director, Government Office for the South East