Real life

How you can tell the gender of a thief

23 November 2019

9:00 AM

23 November 2019

9:00 AM

My attempt at being Columbo was only taking me so far. In solving the mystery of who raided the barn, I was going round in circles. All I knew was that the thieves took a weirdly useless assortment of items, including four wrecked horse rugs, a broken lunge line and a wheelbarrow with a completely flat tyre. They left a brand new sack of horse feed and two battery packs, the only items worth stealing.

We always assume thieves are men, but it seemed unlikely that a man or men would wheel away items as light as rugs in wheelbarrows.

Also, they didn’t make enough of a mess. The horse feed was placed carefully on the floor. This just didn’t feel like the actions of two rural crooks.

Stranger still, the flat wheelbarrow was thrown back over the hedge two nights later with the tyre pumped up. I surmised from this that it was either a startlingly incompetent yet strangely considerate thief, or someone was messing with me.

I brooded. I became more and more freaked out. In the end, the builder boyfriend took it upon himself to hide a camera in a bush. And a few nights after he did so, the thieves came back.

He caught them pulling up in a van, loading up some battered dustbins used to store feed and driving off.

At first he didn’t think he had captured anything. He had set the date wrong on the camera and disabled the video function. He sat in the kitchen shouting at himself. I told him to calm down, he had done a good thing. But he was inconsolable.

I felt like saying: ‘Well, let this be a lesson to you about your cavalier attitude to the time of day.’ It drives me mad that he continually asks me the date and time instead of having a watch, or looking at his phone.

If I had helped him set the camera up, we might at least have got the date right. But he hadn’t wanted to worry me. He took it upon himself to try to keep me safe, which was sweet.

Furious with his mistake, he began cack-handedly struggling to download images. He got the hump within minutes and told me I would have to do it.

Me? With my reputation for computer incompetence? I burst into tears. We sat with the camera, my laptop and a lead that linked the two on the kitchen table in front of us.

‘I can’t do it!’ I wailed. I texted my tech guy but he told me to take the images or, failing that, the entire camera to the police. Given their response to the first burglary —which they labelled an ‘occurrence’ and said they had ‘crimed’ it under an ‘occurrence management number’ — I decided we had to help ourselves.

After much flapping, we managed to get the two devices to talk to each other and a lot of cursing and shouting later we succeeded in making dozens of images pop up on my laptop screen from the night in question — all of them apparently black. Then I had an idea. I clicked through each one, painstakingly using a photo editing suite to lighten them.

I cannot tell you what this did to me, given my extreme technophobia. I all but collapsed with anaphylactic shock.

But eventually, I narrowed it down to five quite decent images showing us, just about, the van and the thieves.

It was a dark-coloured crew van, very smart, with alloy wheels and tinted windows. Not at all the sort of vehicle you would expect a down-at-heel ruffian to use to nick horse feed. Sadly, the registration plate was not visible.

But in one precious picture were two figures: they were puny-looking men in baseball caps and sporting gear apparently carrying the old-style round dustbins a friend had used to store her feed. ‘That is not what I was expecting,’ said the builder b.

Days later, after going back and forward through murky photos, searching for more clues in vain, I suddenly looked at that picture again.

I called the BB over as he was making himself a cup of tea. ‘We’re looking at this assuming it’s men. But what if it’s not?’

He stared at the picture. ‘If it’s not men, it’s one large woman and one smaller woman,’ he said. ‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘Because look, what else do you see?’ He shook his head. ‘They’re not carrying a feed bin each,’ I pointed out. ‘They’re carrying one dustbin between them. Two men would carry a bin each, surely, to hurry things up?’

I am back to my original hunch. I am either being targeted by the stupidest, puniest thieves in the south-east of England, or two bunny boilers are at large.

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