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Jacqui Hames Monthly Blog - April

Date: 17/04/18

Jacqui Hames

Many moons ago as a (very) young uniformed PC patrolling the streets of Chelsea, it was quite overwhelming to think of how many people lived in what was essentially quite a small geographical area. Beautiful old 3 (sometimes even 4) story Victorian or Edwardian town houses, where a single family plus staff had once lived in gracious harmony with rooms to spare, were now divided into apartments housing sometimes 3 or even 4 families. Many had been divided up even further into small bedsits for those on more limited incomes, sometimes with unscrupulous landlords squeezing every penny from each square foot by dividing the rooms further until all beauty and grace had been lost amongst the plasterboard. Sadly many of those also tended to have been neglected and now well and truly had their hearts broken with loose windows, rotting doors, mouldy kitchens and bathrooms that you wouldn’t want to wash your muddy dog in.

All of life resided there. Some just passing through like the Australian back packers who swarmed to Kangaroo Alley, or Earls Court Road as it was more widely known then. Others had lived in the area for generations - passing their homes on down through their families. It wasn’t unusual to be knocking on the imposing door of a titled family or the Chief Executive of a major company, and then 2 doors down dropping in to see a single Mum on benefits struggling to cope in a small bedsit.

The shops were equally diverse. Wandering around the stunning interiors of Harrods or Harvey Nichols, selling handbags which cost more than a months wages, or peering through the hallowed windows of exclusive Michelin star restaurants was a great insight into ‘how the other half live’. But they were just a stone’s throw from the ‘Up All Night’ Cafe - which was literally open all night for those of us who regularly frequented the night hours - which did a brilliant bacon butty and cup of builders tea.

The one thing all the Chelsea residents had in common regardless of who they were, was their vulnerability to theft and in particular burglary. Indeed I ended up on the Chelsea Burglary Squad which was dedicated just to that one crime such was the problem.
With the promise of, lets face it, very wealthy homes to plunder, the area would attract burglars with all levels of expertise from far and wide. From the experienced and very professional burglar who could silence alarms in an instant and gain access to safes almost as quickly, to the opportunist, often drug addicted, amateur burglar forced by their addiction to find the nearest open window or insecure door, looking for just enough cash to get the next fix - Chelsea had them all and plenty in between.

One particular very quiet and to be honest, very boring, night duty I was called to someone locked out of their flat. I wandered along, not really sure what I could do about it but thought on such a quiet night I could possibly try to at least give some assistance and support. Now I’m not one to get particularly star-struck but when the caller turned out to be Sean Connery I have to say the phrase ‘weak at the knees’ could not have been more apt. What can I say - I was a Bond fan! With all the professionalism I could muster I asked how I could assist. I’m not sure that he was totally impressed with a small (well 5’5”) 21year old women whose hat was ever so slightly too big for her, turning up to offer him assistance, but before long we were getting along like a house on fire and eventually gained access to his flat. Well, I’m guessing it was his, looking back all these years later I’m not sure I really checked but as he was ‘Sean Connery’ for goodness sake and he certainly knew where the whiskey was - hic!

A majority of the burglaries happened then, not only because there weren’t particularly good locks on the doors, but because of the age of the woodwork they were fitted to and didn’t take much to break in - even against the shoulder of a small but determined WPC trying to gain entry for an international movie star. I really earned that whiskey.

These days so much has moved on. ERA has a wealth of high security hardware and locks that work together to meet the rigorous PAS 24 standards which now apply to residential doors and the strengthened door materials mean someone chancing their luck with a good push or kick against that lot is going to end up in A&E never mind burgling the house. Ouch!

Equally don’t forget about other aspects of your door hardware.  Good hinges and letterboxes are really important. I made a film a couple of years ago for the BBC about how easy it is for a burglar with a wire coat hanger to feed it through a letterbox and steal keys left by the front door - I think it took our researcher about 3 minutes!

It’s also easy to forget something like the handle, but it’s fairly simple to remember - a standard handle with a 3* cylinder lock on a PVCu door for example makes it 3* safe … or  a 2* security handle would need a 1* cylinder lock to give you the same 3* security overall. It’s worth getting advice from an ERA expert about what suits your needs, it doesn’t have to be ridiculously expensive either. Once completed you really can relax and put your feet up at home. Now where’s that whiskey! Sean?

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