We got burgled in May. It happened in the middle of the night, while me, my wife and my 15 month old son were asleep upstairs, and the first I knew about it was waking up to my neighbour hammering on our open front door at 7 the next morning, shouting up to ask if the PS3 games strewn down the path were ours.
Well, yes, they were.
I went downstairs to find everything in the front room pretty much gone. That included my laptop. Fortunately, all my writing was backed up online (which I don’t do often enough), so I didn’t lose any work. But I did lose hundreds of photographs, have to change all my passwords for the sites I stayed logged into, and so on. So it was a pain. Ultimately, it was about £4k’s worth of material goods.
Still, it could have been worse. That morning. I could cheerfully have killed the fuckers, but – despite my bravado – it’s probably for the best none of us woke up. A few days later, at CrimeFest, Zoe Sharp “reassured” me with a tale about a man who woke up to find his motorcycle stolen and a brick by the side of the bed; the police explained the brick had been held by an accomplice, standing beside the bed, in case he’d woken up. Nobody came upstairs in our burglary, nobody was hurt, and insurance covered the costs. £4k doesn’t seem so much to avoid hurting or being hurt, and we got it back anyway.
They say there’s a sense of intrusion from a burglary – perhaps especially one like ours, where we were present – and there was that, but it was something else that bothered me more. We had been on the receiving end, the attending policeman told us, of “an unusually messy burglary”. As well as taking our things, the burglars had trashed the place. They’d taken things from the kitchen – marmite, oil – and thrown them around. A full tube of suncream had been squirted over the furniture and walls. One of the intruders had eaten a banana and spat half of it out on my son’s toys.
And bizarrely, I could actually sense all that when I first walked into the front room that morning. The air itself seemed slightly … stunned. I remember looking at the suncream and for a moment, because I didn’t know what it was at that point, seeing it as a kind of ectoplasm: a residue left over from something terrible that I knew intuitively had happened in there.
That was what stayed with me, really. Because you can understand – and even empathise – with a certain amount of criminal activity. Beyond that point, though, it becomes alien and mysterious. All right, I thought – take our things and go and buy your fucking drugs. I don’t agree with that, but I can at least comprehend it. The additional behaviour … well, I just had no way of making sense of it. I mean, why do that? What did we ever do to you? Meaningless questions, really, but that aspect of their behaviour seemed incomprehensible. I could imagine being in a position where I needed money. I couldn’t imagine being in a position where I would want to do those other things too. Or even be able to.
The police certainly took it seriously. They were fantastic, in fact – although ultimately there was little they could do. There were no prints. We gave them the serial numbers of everything that was taken, but nothing ever turned up. For a few days, I trawled several of the seedier pawn shops in Leeds to see if I recognised anything, without success.
We received a sign-off from the police a few months ago – a final “we’ve tried everything, we’re sorry, but that’s probably it” update.
And that was that.
Until now – almost six months to the day later.
This afternoon, a policeman walked up my path with a letter, and told me: “it’s good news, for once”. He was very nice. (And they’ve all, genuinely, been very nice). They’ve caught the person who burgled us. The letter reads, in part:
“I am pleased to inform you that we have recently arrested and dealt with a person who has fully admitted responsibility for the crime that you reported to us.
The offender is currently charged / on remand in prison with regard to other similar matters and it is anticipated that your crime will be taken into consideration when he/she appears at court for sentence.”
At first, I was pleased … but then, in a sense, what does it matter? I suppose I’d been wondering what sort of person could do that to us – complete strangers, and obviously not affluent ones – but a conviction tells me nothing. I don’t even know whether the person who destroyed our front room below us while we slept was male or female, never mind why they might have done that.
And then there are the other questions, needling in. Given nothing has been recovered and no prints were found, why would someone own up to a crime they couldn’t realistically be linked to? Because they had an attack of conscience? Because the M.O. was too similar to escape? Because admitting to crimes, whether they committed them or not, might reduce their sentence? The phrase “… it is anticipated that your crime will be taken into consideration when he/she appears at court for sentence” suddenly takes on variable meanings.
Ultimately, it means the same thing: I still don’t know, and probably never will. It could be the person who burgled our home, or it might not be. The stolen property has been replaced, regardless, because most such financial damage can be repaired.
But when I think about that night, I imagine a faceless person whirling about, unknown, below me for reasons I can’t explain, and it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that he – or she – will always remain faceless in every way that really matters.