An investigation by Palatinate has revealed that students feel “unsafe” and “violated” following an increase in burglaries in Durham, particularly within student houses.
In 2023, there were 317 burglaries in residential properties or dwellings in the DH1 region, according to a Freedom of Information Request by Palatinate. The number of reported burglaries have almost doubled since 2021, with a 60% increase in residential burglaries in the past year alone.
This is contrary to overall trends: whilst the latest data from the Office for National Statistics reports that theft offences have increased by 13% in County Durham from June 2022 to June 2023, burglaries in the region have decreased by 3%.
There were 545 total burglaries, which includes non-residential properties, in the DH1 region in 2023, according to Police UK stats.
Over a quarter of total burglaries in the DH1 region in 2023 were in the Gilesgate/Sherburn Road/Carville/Belmont area, totaling to 160 burglaries. The residential area is popular with students, who consist of over 25% of its population.
On the other hand, in Durham City West, which covers properties between Neville’s Cross and South Road, there were only eight burglaries across 2023.
Palatinate spoke to Lara Tatli, whose house in Gilesgate was broken into in October 2023. She and her housemate awoke to the doors being left wide open and Ms Tatli’s car keys and car stolen.
“My car had a tracker installed, and I could see using an app that it was still being driven near Durham,” Ms Tatli told Palatinate, and Durham Constabulary were shortly able to locate the car “deserted in a field”, having been involved in an accident.
Ms Tatli continued, “The police and crime scene investigators maintained close contact with me. They provided information on victim support services and kept me updated on any new developments in the case. Their approach was incredibly sympathetic and supportive throughout, especially when I went to retrieve my possessions from what was left of my car.”
“The emotional aftermath was difficult, as I was suddenly dealing with police reports, insurance claims, and feeling unsafe in my home on top of my student responsibilities,” she explained, “I found it difficult to open up about it and break the news to my friends, as I was struggling to comprehend the situation myself.”
As of December 2023, the investigation was concluded without any arrests made.
A spokesperson from Durham Constabulary told Palatinate that, “since the inception of a new crime team covering Durham City 12 months ago, officers have been able to dedicate more resources to tackling burglary in the area.”
This comes after all Home Office police forces agreed to attend every residential burglary reported to them in October 2022. Whilst several forces already operated under this policy, previously, some forces would only attend burglaries where victims were vulnerable or elderly, or once evidential lines of enquiry were found.
“We will continue to use all the powers at our disposal to disrupt the unacceptable work of opportunist thieves,” the spokesperson from Durham Constabulary continued, “Anyone who thinks it is acceptable to bring harm and suffering to innocent people in our communities will be dealt with robustly.
“However, we need your help as we would sooner prevent it happening in the first place. Please lock your doors, even when you’re at home. If you want any crime prevention advice our police liaison officers would be happy to help, just get in touch with them.”
Palatinate also spoke to Samuel Dexter, who has been a victim of burglary twice whilst living in Durham as a student: first in a house in the Viaduct over Easter 2023, and more recently in October 2023 in the Church Street area.
Mr Dexter mentioned “how quickly [Durham Constabulary] responded, how brilliant they were that first time it happened,” saying that “they were there within five minutes.”
“I’m always careful because I was brought up to look after the place I’m living in, and lock doors and be safe, but until it happens to you, I don’t think a lot of people think it’s necessarily a possibility,” Mr Dexter said, “I did have a few sleepless nights thinking about that because it’s quite a horrible thing.”
When his house was broken into in October 2023, the door had been left unlocked whilst the tenants were upstairs, meaning the perpetrator could walk in without causing damage to the property.
“It happening a second time really made me think that this is an issue in Durham because the student population is concentrated in a few housing estates,” Mr Dexter said.
Crimestoppers, an independent charity that “gives people the power to speak up and stop crime”, launched a campaign in November 2023 to raise awareness against ‘sneak in’ burglaries in Durham last year. ‘Sneak in’ burglars enter a property through windows or doors which have been left unlocked or open.
Fleur Brown, North East Regional Manager at Crimestoppers, advised: “When you’re at home, make sure you lock doors and windows. Don’t give the opportunity for anyone to enter uninvited. Even if you’re only going out for a few minutes, check that all doors and windows are properly closed and locked.
“The cost of burglary is not just financially expensive, it can lead to longer lasting emotional trauma as well. And if an item taken has sentimental value, it can never be replaced. Our charity, which is independent of the police, believes that everybody has a right to feel safe everywhere, especially in their home, and that our belongings are secure.”
The campaign promotes nine home security tips: checking that all doors and windows are properly locked; fitting burglar arms with lights and sounders at the front and back of properties; switching lights or radios on when you go out; securing side and back gates; not leaving garden tools and ladders outside, and keeping sheds or outbuildings secure; fitting outdoor security lights; locking secure doors even when you’re at home, especially at night; asking a neighbour to keep an eye on the property if you go away, such as by keeping a car parked on the driveway if applicable; and, finally, be aware of distraction burglaries, where someone calls at your door, meaning you are distracted for someone else to burgle you.
Crimestoppers operates with 100% anonymity, and information about crimes can be given to the charity at any time through their Contact Centre at 0800 555 111, or through their secure anonymous online form at Crimestoppers-uk.org.
A spokesperson for Durham Constabulary similarly told Palatinate that “we have made significant progress with reducing the number of sneak-in burglaries that occur with several arrests and charges brought while others have already been convicted and jailed.”
Images: Vionnet Lee
Palatinate also spoke to Vionnet Lee, whose house in Gilesgate, was broken into in December 2023 after the tenants had gone home for the Christmas holidays. After checking that the house was fully locked before leaving, Ms Lee returned to find that the house had been “completely ransacked.”
“I went to the back door and the back door lock had been snapped,” she told Palatinate, “I called the police and they came quite quickly just to check over and have a look around the house and secure everything. They were good with it because they installed alarms […] and they installed the lock on the back door.”
“I just felt very violated,” she continued, “It’s a bit tricky staying in the house by myself, especially overnight […] I think that the break in has made it a bit more challenging, especially in terms of my anxiety and being in the house by myself.”
Speaking to Palatinate, Durham Constabulary suggested several ways in which students can reduce the chance of their homes and vehicles from being a target for criminals: “Lock all windows and doors – even when you’re at home. Ensure no items are on display and remove valuables from your vehicle each night.
“A well-lit home gives the impression someone is in. Leave a light on or use timer switches so lights come on when it gets dark. […] Don’t leave curtains closed during the day, only in the evening and overnight.
“Don’t leave your house and vehicle keys in the lock or on a side table in view of a window, making it easy for a thief to fish them through your letterbox. If you drive a keyless car, keep the fob in a Faraday bag to block the signal and prevent copying.
“If you have a house alarm, use it. In addition, secure any outbuildings and gates and consider installing a security light and/or CCTV.
“Report any unusual behaviour to [Durham Constabulary] via 101 or 999 in an emergency.”
Image: Mark Norton