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What to do when a burglar strikes

Home » Advice » Coping with a burglary
Burglar breaks window

Without a proper burglar alarm installation in your home, you are five times more likely to be burgled, according to police statistics. And, if you do suffer a break-in you can expect to undergo a rollercoaster of emotions.

A burglary is more than the loss of valuable possessions; it can mean that the place you once felt safest — your home — has been violated. It can take weeks, even months, for burglary victims to recover from the shock, confusion and upset.

Worse still, if you have been the victim of a break-in, you are much more likely to be burgled again, especially if you take no security measures to protect your home.

Bouncing back from the trauma of a break-in can be long and challenging but the experience, no matter how awful, does not have to leave you with a permanent scar. There are things that you can do, both immediately and longer term, to help your recovery.

The first steps

At the first signs of a break-in, the victim is often in a state of confusion and disbelief. Your first thought should be to get to a safe place and call the police. The burglars may still be on the premises, and you will not want to add an assault and a trip to the hospital to the mix.

Do not go into your home to call the police and do not touch anything before they arrive. You could destroy or contaminate crucial evidence the police need to find and prosecute any intruders. Police will also ensure your home is safe to enter.

Calling the police puts the incident on record. It is necessary for insurance claims and to retrieve any stolen belongings later should they be found. Stay calm when you call the police and give as much information as possible. It can be useful to note the make, colour and number plates of any vehicles in the vicinity and, if you see anyone nearby, write down their details including sex, age, ethnicity, clothing and so on. It is vital to do this as soon as you can as people's memory is notoriously unreliable at times of stress.

The next steps

Police officers will need to interview you and may ask questions about recent visitors to the house, previous owners, tenants, or anyone with access to a key. When police give the go-ahead, you can check the house for any missing items. Make an inventory of anything missing or broken and make a copy for the police, your insurance company and yourself. Note also any items that have been moved as police may be able to check these for fingerprints.

It is a good idea to take photographs or make videos of any damage or disturbance to the property including garage, outhouses and any sheds. It will also be useful to obtain the police case number to allow you to check on any developments and to update police on any further information which may come to light.

The follow-up

Contact your house insurance company as soon as possible to let them know what has happened. You may also need to fish out your policy and read it through carefully. The company will need an inventory of what is missing or damaged and its approximate value. It is a good idea to document every phone call, email, conversation or any other action taken. This should include dates and times of calls, contacts and events as well as names, what was discussed and any action taken or agreed. Keep all documentation and records in a folder and keep it safe.

It will soon be time to clear up any mess and get your home back in order. Wait for police to give the go-ahead for this. Cleaning up can often be the most distressing time, but it is important to get this out of the way as early as possible. Only when you home is back in order can you start the healing process. Putting it off is only storing up painful memories for a future date.

Pay particular attention to the damage caused to doors, windows and other points of access and get locks replaced as soon as possible. Removing damaged furniture and other triggers to the event is often helpful and even rearranging your home to create a new look can combat anxiety with feelings of a fresh start.

The future

Of course, some people can't face the clean-up, and it may make sense to hire a cleaning company to take care of things. Many can't face the anxiety of staying in a home that has just been burgled so there is no harm in staying with family, friends or even in a hotel for a night or two.

It is important to talk about your feelings, following a home burglary and take the steps necessary to re-establish a sense of home security, reinforce family togetherness and come to terms with what has happened.

Family and friends will provide the best support but seek to counselling if this proves problematic. The impact on individual family members can vary wildly. Young children often respond negatively for prolonged periods, and this can be especially troubling to stressed-out parents. Relatives, even pets can be affected not only by the burglary itself but the family's response to it. Eventually, the wounds will heal, and you will once again feel safe and confident in your home but be aware that this could take time, and the process will not always be smooth.

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