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Another day at the coalface

Here comes a tale of modern times.

In March of last year – don’t laugh – I was burgled whilst having my afternoon nap in my flat.

The facts are relatively simple if almost unbelievable.

I had arrived home from a barely alcohol-driven lunch in central London and, because as usual I had been up since approximately 1.00am, I decided to have a nap before the evening unfolded and toddled along the corridor to my bedroom for the purpose.

About eighty minutes later I re-emerged and discovered my front door ajar – apparently forced – with debris littered the corridor. It became evident that I’d suffered a break-in.

My mansion block was having renovations at the time but – whether the perpetrator(s) had been a resident, visitors or contractor – presumably they must have spotted the opportunity of a flat apparently unoccupied and taken the chance.

They hadn’t taken much – just my briefcase from the front room and (as it turned out later) my car keys.

This next bit is speculation on my part but probably also the truth.

Having gained entry they began ‘casing the joint’. Within a minute or so, coming down the corridor towards my bedroom, they must have heard my bedside radio broadcasting Radio Five Live (my normal practice when going to bed is to have it on as I descend into the land of Nod) and – possibly even after pushing my bedroom door open to check – upon realising that someone was sleeping in the flat decided to scarper.

Losing my briefcase was a significant disaster because it contained my passport and other items of significant sentimental value and/or personal importance.

I only appreciated that my car keys had also gone when, having rung the police to report the burglary, a neighbour who had come down to assist said that with something like a briefcase, the thief or thieves might well get it open, take anything valuable, and discard it: he offered to go out into the road to see if it was lying around somewhere.

When he returned he announced that my car was missing from the car park.

This prompted me to discover that my car keys had gone, along with the car.

I therefore rang the police again to report the development.

Subsequently, after visits from the constabulary – both regarding the burglary generally and then a forensic exam of the front door for fingerprints – and contact from some ‘victim support’ department or another, I eventually received what I was half-expecting: news from the police that there was nothing more they could do and they were closing down the investigation.

But this wasn’t quite the end of the story.

About a month later, the Knightsbridge police contacted me to say they found my car, bedecked with parking tickets, not a million miles from Harrods.

Eventually it was brought to a compound near where I live and I was invited down to see it – to be frank, I was its biggest fan and was hoping that I could virtually drive it away.

Not so.

The compound manager explained that the first thing that would happen was my insurance company would require a repair estimate. To be honest, in order to get my car back, I’d have been prepared to pay for the repairs myself – however, it was explained to me that this decision was out of my hands.

In the end – given that £4,000 (the estimated cost of repair), turned out to be quite close to the estimate of £6,000 that my car was worth as a “write-off”– the insurance company took the decision that it more cost-effective for them to “write it off” than repair it.

Thus I received cheque for £6,000 and that was that was the end of my beloved car as far as I was concerned.

Thereafter there occurred a twist in the tale.

A week or two later, I received a “parking fine” notification from my local council.

Apparently, on the day my burglary took place, I had parked my car illegally less than half a mile away from my flat, outside a pub. In support of their case the council had helpfully supplied evidence in the form of three CCTV snapshots of my car in said position across a period of more than an hour on the evening in question.

I duly wrote back to the council contesting the alleged “fine” on the logical basis that the first CCTV snapshot was taken about 30 minutes after I had discovered my flat’s break-in. In other words, the buggers who burgled my flat and stolen my car and driven down the road to the first pub they came to, presumably to have a celebratory drink!

I am pleased to report that the council let me off my “parking offence”.

Less positive was the response of the police to my responsible citizen’s act of sending copies of the “parking fine” council letter and the aforementioned CCTV pictures to them. In my covering note I had pointed out the possibility that one or more of the thieves might actually have been caught on camera – in each of the CCTV images there were people either standing beside my car and/or in the vicinity of it.

A while later back came the police response. There was nothing they could do and they were closing the case file.

You might say “Such is life …”

However yesterday came another little epilogue.

After receiving my £6,000 vehicle “write off” cheque I spent every penny of it buying another second-hand car and arranging insurance for it. It was a run-around, hopefully low cost, option to acquire myself wheels for a year or so.

As it happens, I loved my “new” (sorry, old) car and spent 14 months driving it anywhere and everywhere until about a month ago when – out of the blue – it developed an oil pressure problem which (I now understand) has the potential to be a serious and costly issue. I had to get it towed home and booked into my local main dealer for a diagnosis and repair.

The earliest booking they could grant me was two and a half weeks later so my car has to sit that long in the street waiting for its appointment … and in the meantime I had to borrow another vehicle to get by.

Earlier this week I had to arrange another tow to get my car to said main dealer. Yesterday they contacted me to report that – such was the seriousness of its problems – the estimated cost of repair is (to all intents and purposes) probably more than it is worth.

I shall be making a decision today whether to go through with the repair or simply send my car to the great knacker’s yard in the sky.

About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts