For a few years we were a two fridge family. This was, I have no hesitation in confessing, extravagant and bad for the environment. It was also entirely unintentional.

When we moved to our current house we, of course, brought a lot of stuff with us, including our own fridge freezer. We’d failed to appreciate that the previous owners had one ‘fitted’ in the kitchen and were leaving it. Finding ourselves with two fridges we did what any self-respecting couple who like to pretend they have an active social life would do: we had a drinks fridge.

To be fair there wasn’t that much else we could do. It was firmly wedged in (as I discovered when I finally had no choice but to remove it, which I could only do by also removing chunks of the kitchen) and we never had enough confidence that it was cool enough to store anything that might go off and poison us – it was probably past it when we inherited it. But it was great for storing all those best served chilled products, and meant we never had to choose whether we kept vodka or fish fingers in the freezer.

But all good things must come to an end and, after a brief period standing in when our ‘proper’ fridge died it too came to the end of its long and faithful service.

After somehow getting it out of the cupboard that had been fitted around it we called the council and arranged for a bulk item collection and, until they were due to take it left the old fellow in the front garden.

And from there he was stolen.

Someone came into our front garden and took it. What’s worse is that it was right up against our front window and we were in when it happened, but despite the size and the awkwardness of it they managed to take it without us noticing.

Now to a degree I don’t really care. While we’d paid the council to take it, the net result is that it was taken, it’s neither here nor there how it went. And it was a really manky fridge. It had been left for a while after it died and scary things had started growing in it (which also made me glad we’d pretty much only ever used it for liquids that were not only in sealed containers but also had antiseptic properties.)

What does annoy me is that it would have been taken by someone who will probably take out the cooling pipes – which apparently have a scrap value – and then fly-tip the remains. And that it was, technically, theft – it was on my property and taken by someone who did not have permission. Not that I’m going to report it.

But it’s also a lesson about home security. And here comes the morale of my tale, like He-Man at the end of an episode… That someone managed to remove a large, cumbersome fridge, fairly inconveniently placed in our garden, without us noticing while we were in the house rather suggests that if it had been something valuable left near an open window that could easily have gone too. The crime reports I publish currently have too many burglaries made possible by doors and windows left open because of the hot weather, and if my fridge is anything to go by, it’s not hard for thief to take advantage of the smallest opportunity.

Sensationalist headlines over a free, and misleading, ad for
Sensationalist headlines cover a free, and misleading, ad for

Unsuprisingly a lot of people have asked me about the story on the BBC website suggesting that SW11 is a ‘burglary hotspot’.

Rather pleasingly I’ve been able to tell them the story is an absolute nonsense. An unfortunate example of a journalist cutting and pasting a press release (this time from and pretending it’s a news story.

In fact, fairly basic research would have revealed that actual crime figures show the list to be a nonsense. If the journalist had just glanced at the  link to Home Office statistics included with the story it would have raised enough alarm bells to dig a little deeper.

I set myself the challenge of finding a few areas that should have appeared on the list.

I’m going to confess that I’m cheating a little here. Crime statistics by postcode aren’t publicly available. So I’m comparing by borough, for which you can easily get statistics from the Home Office’s ‘Statistics on the Internet’ site. My justification and theory is this: crime in Wandsworth is relatively uniform – although Battersea is slightly higher than other areas, it isn’t disproportionately higher – therefore if I can find an area that doesn’t feature on the list with much higher crime, it follows that, even if uniformly spread, it is a hotter spot for burglary than any of the listed hotspots.

The rate of burglary in Wandsworth over the past five years (2004-5 to 2008-9 was 12.1 per 1,000 population). I needed to find somewhere higher.

It wasn’t hard. Personal curiosity pushed me towards my childhood home authority of North East Lincolnshire (which, according to contains all or parts of DN31, DN32, DN33, DN35, DN36, DN37, DN40 and LN3 postcodes). There the five year average was 22.8 burglaries per 1,000 population. Nearly twice the rate of Wandsworth, but none of those postcodes featured in the list.

I then tried to find somewhere leafier. South Buckinghamshire hit the spot for me. With UB postcodes and rather nice sounding places like Stoke Poges and Hedgerley it managed a five-year rate of 16.9 burglaries per 1,000 population. But somehow, it’s not on the list.

And there are plenty of other areas that don’t feature and probably should:

  • Bradford (postcode BD12) has a five year rate of 17.7 burglaries per 1,000 population.
  • Kingston upon Hull (postcodes HU1, HU7 and HU9) has a five year rate of 26.1 burglaries per 1,000 population.
  • Middlesborough (postcodes TS1, TS3, TS5, TS7 and TS8) has a five year rate of 20.7 burglaries per 1,000 population.

That was from a fairly cursory look through, but enough to make it fairly clear that the list is PR puff, rather than a serious attempt at mapping burglary hotspots.

This isn’t to say the story is complete nonsense, Leeds and Nottingham both have very high burglary rates and feature. But the story is really about what people who have applied for insurance through that site have said. There are all sorts of factors that will skew the results; things like internet access, consumer savvy and likelihood to even have insurance will all play a part – and this is as much a ‘study’ of those factors than it is of crime or burglary rates.  Unfortunately the BBC chose the sensationalist headline and story rather than accuracy.

I wouldn’t pretend Wandsworth is a crime-free oasis.  We do have low crime rates, but the recession means the decline in crime seems to have reversed.  But this is a national trend and  Wandsworth remains one of the safest places in London.  There are many areas across London and the country with significantly higher rates of burglary, while Wandsworth residents shouldn’t be complacent – and should take precautions against crime – they do not need to be panicked by stories like this.

What annoys me is not producing the press release (after all, it creates publicity and therefore business for them – though I’ve churlishly not linked their name), but the BBC just re-publishing it as fact with no critical analysis. This is an analysis of insurance application hotspots, not crime hotspots. All it has done is further skew the mismatch between crime rates and fear of crime – made some people feel less safe and, perhaps, lull others into a false sense of security.

Given the BBC’s public service ethos I expect better from the BBC. Sadly, it seems that expectation is misplaced.

For the sake of completeness I’ve included the figures from the Home Office below:

5 year burglary rates