Forget the sympathy and counselling. Just lock up my burglar!



00:03 GMT, 23 December 2012

The last time I wrote about a crime in the family – after my younger son was relieved of his BlackBerry in London’s Holland Park in broad daylight – a certain local politician complained of me putting it about that the capital’s streets were in the grip of a ‘middle-class mugging epidemic’ ahead of an important election.

Well, even as Plebgate turns to Plodgate, I have another crime to report. On the heartbreak scale, nothing like Robert Peston’s recent loss of jewellery belonging to his late wife, Sian Busby. But unpleasant enough.

I got home after a festive gathering and my older son rushed to greet me at the front door, his face stricken. He’d been sitting watching TV downstairs and heard a noise. He thought nothing of it, but when he went into the kitchen he discovered we’d been burgled.

Cut the sympathy: The Johnson family have received a house call and phone call from victim support offering counselling as well as two letters from the police since the MacBook was stolen

Cut the sympathy: The Johnson family have received a house call and phone call from victim support offering counselling as well as two letters from the police since the MacBook was stolen

I admit, officer, that the back door to the house was unlocked at the time. Unlocked by me. We’d been burgled, and my son’s new MacBook stolen.

Now the MacBook was replaceable, of course, unlike treasured family jewels, let alone a beloved wife. But still: it was a laptop a teenager had worked for weeks in a restaurant kitchen over his summer to buy.

‘Did you insure it, like I said’ I asked. ‘No,’ he said shortly, working away on my laptop. ‘But I’ve got tracking.’ ‘Oh good,’ I said, not knowing what he meant.

The police turned up, then left, saying they’d be in touch, which they most certainly were. Since the ‘incident’, we’ve had a house call from Victim Support, a call asking us whether we needed counselling, a letter expressing sympathy, and a letter asking if we wanted more counselling.

Something astonishing happened three days later. While nothing seemed to be occurring on the crime-solving front, the tracking was working like something out of Spooks. Prey Project software sent us a three-pronged report, generated from the nicked laptop. And very interesting it was, too.

The first part was a photo taken by the stolen MacBook of the first person who’d gone online since the theft. It showed the large face of a bald gentleman.

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he second showed the home screen of the missing laptop, where our gent was logged into Facebook. The third was a map, which zoomed in on the current location of the missing item, to a radius of 110 yards.

Now, you would have thought that when we excitedly told our detective constable that we had a visual, the Facebook profile, and almost exact location of the current ‘owner’ of the stolen item on the mean streets of Ealing, as well as the laptop’s serial number and IP address, he would have hopped in a panda car, and gone all Life On Mars. But he didn’t.

Explaining why would take ages: essentially, all the information generated and given was still insufficient to execute a search warrant. So this is where we are. Nowhere.

Now, I presume that the local constabulary feel it’s ‘job done’ because they turned up, fingerprinted, gave us a crime number, and offered counselling. But it’s not. The one important box remains unticked: they have not solved the crime or, in my view, really tried to. There has been no – in the jargon – ‘justice outcome’.

After we’d stopped even getting letters offering tea and sympathy, I called them. ‘How about I go to Ealing and do a Mummy Stakeout followed by a citizen’s arrest myself’ I suggested. There was a pause. ‘I advise against attending an unknown location due to obvious risk,’ the DC replied.

Then he said, as if I’d be pleased: ‘The image of the man in possession of the computer has been fed through the Met’s facial-recognition software without result and has been circulated to Ealing’s safer neighbourhood team.’

I can’t help feeling we’re on our own here, and this is also why a desperate Peston, I presume, has taken to Twitter, and published photographs of the missing rings, and appealed for their return.

It’s as if Plod is now devoting more resources to aftercare than investigation when it comes to theft.

As I’ve learnt, while apps and spy software may reveal where your electronic babies are, they won’t help you get them back. Even if the cops had kicked down doors in Ealing, they say my son would only get into a protracted civil dispute over who had legal claim on the item, which had doubtless been fenced on within hours for 50 or so on the Uxbridge Road.

So if you have splashed out on anything expensive and electronic, do remember: if you don’t buy insurance (and check your household insurance, too – it turned out we didn’t have any, which was happily my husband’s fault), Father Christmas will be giving the present to some light-fingered footpad, who will flog it on within hours, making it virtually irrecoverable.

Not that insurance, of course, would help when it comes to Sian Busby’s rings, or the necklace saying ‘Mum’, given to her by their teenage son, Max.

No tracking can ever find them; no amount of compensation can ever replace them. When the police appear to care as little for our possessions as those who have stolen them do, then we are all robbed – of our faith in the force.

As Robert Peston says: ‘All I can do is hope.’

Mixing Chanel and a hairy bloke… it's got the whiff of pure genius

I know you’ve been shocked and bewildered since it was launched on an unsuspecting universe in October, but I am here to decode one of the greatest non-Mayan mysteries of recent months: why is a hairy bloke in an open-necked shirt flogging a girls’ scent, Chanel No 5, instead of your usual Hollywood hottie

Is this a case of marketing Eau Dear Or is the campaign a game-changer – and are soaring sales, as the advertisement insists, ‘INEVITABLE’ Well, according to the Mad Men I’ve spoken to, the Brad Pitt TV ad may be unwatchable, but it’s working.

Pure advertising genius: Chanel No. 5 has seen its sales soar since Brad Pitt appeared in its latest advert

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‘It’s not a journey. Every journey ends but we go on. The world turns and we turn with it. Plans disappear, dreams take over,’ Brad says without conviction, despite his reported 4.3million fee for doing the puff, before continuing hopelessly: ‘Wherever I go, there you are. My luck, my fate, my fortune. Chanel No 5. Inevitable.’

Thanks to this, a bottle of the stuff is sold every 60 seconds. So the campaign may be toe-curling, but it’s had a huge impact, apparently – mainly with men who buy the wife one present a year, in a state of complete panic, and think they can’t go wrong with this one.

So let us not to the marriage of two true brands – Pitt and Chanel – admit impediments!

Coco in a reindeer hat: My answer to the 'boastcard'

I haven't had so many Christmas cards this year. How about you I’m putting my unpopularity down to three factors: the price of stamps, the rise of e-cards, and the direct correlation between sending cards and receiving them.

I don’t send cards any more (I’m organisationally challenged) but I’m always pleased to get them.

I adore round-robins, the more bathetically detailed the better, and also relish ‘boastcards’ – the ones with a collage of photos of a family you don’t know, and who clearly don’t know you either (to Rachel – and you all!).

In some photos, they’re in swimwear on a beach somewhere, holding in their tummies. The best I can do in retaliation is this picture of our raisin-free dog Coco wearing her seasonal knitted reindeer helmet. Happy Christmas.

Coco the dog

An answer to the 'boastcard': Coco the dog wearing a seasonal knitted reindeer hat