Thieves in the Night

On both Whitsun and May Bank Holidays this year, cars have been broken into in the pub car park at Ystradfellte. Although mostly they had not belonged to people staying at the cottage, the trend was getting worrying.

Much debate ensued (mostly in the pub!) about what action to take. Andy Todd had seen a small Infra Red movement alarm device advertised in the papers for under œ20, and bought one with the intention of setting it up in the car park to warn off intruders. I however thought that it would be more interesting to try and catch them at it, so I disconnected the built in klaxon and connected the output to a wire strung across the road to the cottage. Although we were expecting another attack at the August Bank Holiday, I thought I would leave it on one Friday night in July to see if dogs/cats etc. set it off.

The intention was to set the alarm up on the window sill beside the bunk where I usually sleep, but there was somebody already there, so I left it downstairs. At about 1.30am I woke up and heard it going off. It had apparently been going off for about half an hour, but nobody had told me, so I put on my shoes to investigate. However, I wasn't really prepared for an actual thieving situation, and I think I let the gate clang shut as I left the cottage, because when I got to the car park I saw somebody legging it away. "Suspicious!" I thought, so I looked closely at the cars for signs of damage and discovered a mangled lock. As I moved along the cars, all of a sudden I heard "Oh, shit!" from behind a van and up popped this bloke! Unfortunately, not having actually seen him in action, and being alone, there wasn't much I could do except ask him to wait while I got the owner of the car to confirm that it had been robbed - which of course he didn't do.

After finding that the car had been robbed, I telephoned the Police who turned up fairly quickly and got the dog vans out to search the area for the robbers, during which we found the cars stereo etc. in the car park together with the break in tool (all with good finger prints on). The search however proved fruitless. It was pretty certain that they didn't have a car in the area, and as the bloke I spoke to was very Welsh, there must be a suspicion that they were local.

The next day we found a torch stolen from the car in the little pine wood at the top of the lane where other stolen items had been found on previous occasions. By the evening we had developed a theory that they might come back, and had drawn up an action plan to get enough people out of the cottage to grab them, so when the alarm went off at 12.30am, three of us rushed into the car park armed with brooms only to find a couple having a grope in a car!

At the moment, the sensor device is not permanently fixed and has to be clipped into position each weekend, though this may change. It is turned on and off by an IR key fob, and the alarm can be turned on and off at a control box by the speaker. We need someone to loan us a small camera with a built in flash so that we can photograph anyone else we find. We also have a procedure for action when the alarm goes off, eg. at least three people are required, no lights turned on, no doors slammed, etc. The detector is extremely effective and designed to only go off with a human heat profile, so although the Police think we have scared the thieves off, if they do try it again, we have a very good chance of catching them at it.

PS: In February, a group from the University of East Anglia staying at the cottage had their van broken into at Llangattock. Fortunately, they took the number of a car which was suspiciously having its wheel changed. This turned out to be the thieves, the group got most of their gear back, and the villains have apparently been given quite long prison sentances!

Chris Crowley