By Robert Macklin
The story so far: Our home has been burgled on April Fool’s day. The thieves escaped with both family cars, my phone and watch, wife Wendy’s handbag containing driver’s licence, phone and all credit cards. The Canberra police just missed capturing the thieves when daughter-in-law Sarina tracked my stolen phone to Mt Ainslie.
Despite the disappointment of the Mt Ainslie caper, we had tracked the stolen phone twice to an address in an inner North suburb. And the police know a resident who had been involved previously in car theft. Son Ben had cruised the area the day before but no luck…yet.
That night his elder brother, Rob had arrived from Sydney with wife Sophia and daughter Sami. The clan had gathered for the fray.
At 2am Rob heard a car throttling down outside our townhouse. The thieves had stolen the remote that raised the garage door; maybe they were back for a second go. In a trice he was up, armed with my five-iron and out the front door. By then the car had roared away.
The new day started slowly. Wendy hadn’t slept well, her dozing punctuated by sounds and visions of intruders. I was so exhausted not even the spectre of the thieves standing in the April Fool’s shadows as they pocketed my phone, watch and even the little medication bag of my COPD puffers kept me awake.
Now the main agenda was the journey to recovery-land. We’d picked up a hire car courtesy of the insurance people. It carried one team into the Telstra shop for new phones, a relatively painless operation until Wendy was asked to show ID. ‘But it was stolen,’ she said. An impasse. But of course, her passport was back home in a drawer untouched by the thieves.
Finally, back on the air.
At home, neighbours called – Claire with a bunch of flowers, Jenny with kindly support. And when Rob and I returned from a foray to the thief’s address, Steve from next door noticed car lights and came to warn us. In fact, we were still in the car chatting about our next moves – how many locks to be changed by Danny the Handyman; and what about the garage door which opened at the touch of a remote - now in my stolen car…
The return to recovery-land is a long and winding road.
Constable Grace Woodbridge, pert and efficient, followed up with a phone call and text before going on leave. ‘If the vehicles are located you will be contacted by another patrol who are working,’ she said. Jayden her police partner, described the way car thieves trash and corrupt their prey, especially older ones like ours. Then Sarina’s final trace of my phone showed them on their way to Sydney.
That’s when my journalistic instincts kicked in. How many others have suffered a similar experience – not so much the loss of possessions but the violation of a home that had felt impregnable, a sanctuary detached from the outside world with all its tremors of anger and unease?
I looked up the Canberra crime stats on the Net and checked them with Police media. Since 1 January this year there have been no fewer than 464 burglaries in our fair city; and 291 stolen cars to the end of March. This means that every day will see more than five burglaries and three cars stolen from our law- abiding citizens. At a conservative $15k for each car, that’s $4.3 million in insurance in only three months.
But here’s the rub: If Sarina could trace the stolen vehicles via my stolen phone, why couldn’t the Canberra police do the same, especially when GPS satellites know the exact whereabouts of almost every car on the road? The Police media spokesman said, ‘warrants’ and ‘subpoenas’ were required because of ‘privacy’ regulations.
Privacy, in 2021?
If you’re one of the unlucky eight or nine victims you will have had a haunting experience. For some, it will no doubt become part of life’s rich tapestry. For others, it might well be more difficult to bear. There’s an understandable desire to raise the walls of security, to festoon the home boundaries with CCTV, double the locks on all the doors, burn the outside lights through the night. And I guess that ‘Safety First’ is not a bad guide through the shadows of life’s tribulations.
A few days later, Wendy’s car was found – wrecked – a MacGregor – and written off. My old Mercedes was also written off and full marks to AAMI who were wonderfully supportive throughout. So too Toby, the boss at Phillip’s “House of Cars” who guided me through the purchase of a replacement.
But it’s the other, more intimate shadows that have refused to dissolve, no matter how hard I try. They pass through the back gate, sneering at the locks and bolts; glide through the bolted door into the bathroom-laundry; drift into the dressing room, this time picking up the wallet that’s slipped from the back pocket of my jeans.
They stand by the bed, looking down at two sleeping figures and the five-iron resting against the Chinese lowboy. Then they reach a shadowy hand towards it…