It's only when you have your car stolen from outside your house that you discover, from friends, neighbours and faintly bored professionals, just what an imaginative, energetic and bare-faced lot car thieves are.
A friend of ours recently came home from work by car to discover her husband's sports car pinched off the drive and the lights on in the house. She went in to find the house had been ransacked. She rang her husband, who was overseas, to tell him. He suggested she quickly look in the drawer where they kept the second key for the car she'd come back in. It wasn't there and - by the time she got back to the phone - nor was the vehicle. The thieves had obviously been waiting for her to come back with the other car so that they could pinch that one as well. They'd passed the time waiting for her by burgling a house across the road.
Other friends living not far away were also relieved of two vehicles in similar style a year before, only this time the gang, which was fronted by adolescent boys, unlikely to suffer the full force of the law, came back the following day to take the second car.
Our loss was nothing like as dramatic. Nonetheless we lost a 15-year-old Mercedes Estate with plenty of miles on the clock. The police shrugged and gave us a crime number. The insurers gave us less than a thousand pounds for it. A man from the motor trade guessed it would have been on its way to Africa or Albania within twenty-four hours. He pointed out that every part of that car is worth around fifty quid and therefore it would be cannibalized for spares. More fool us for lovingly and expensively caring for it.
One of the kids wanted to know why nobody could find it. After all she's grown up with the modern miracle of number plate recognition whereby the screen at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel always greets us with "Good morning, Mr Hepworth". With such technology available it ought to be possible to know where every recently pinched car in the UK is at any given time. I suspect it's one of those cases where the sheer amount of information available overwhelms the human element. In truth nobody really wants to know. The police either can't be bothered or aren't geared up for the effort. The insurance companies just want to settle. It's just one of those constantly grinding bureaucratic processes which everybody prefers to leave well alone.
Another neighbour found this when he was victim of the old fishing rod through the letter-box ruse. He got one of his two vehicles back. After he'd settled with the insurance company over the other one he started getting parking tickets for it. He went to the address on the tickets and found the vehicle, where it had clearly been abandoned. He then spent considerable time on the phone and banging on desks at the offices of the local authority, police and insurance company trying to get somebody to take responsibility for the car, which was no longer his. All concerned made it clear that they regarded him as being rather tiresome.