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Burglaries blamed on Shropshire street lights switch-off

Oswestry | News | Published:

A spate of burglaries in Shropshire has been blamed on street lights being turned off at midnight.

George and Lindy Roberts were among half a dozen householders in Ludlow who had their homes or outbuildings targeted by thieves in the past fortnight.

The retired couple, who live in Stanton Road, returned from a three-day trip to see family in Bournemouth to find their house had been ransacked and hundreds of pounds worth of jewellery taken.

The break-in is thought to have happened overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday.

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In the previous week there were two burglaries on neighbouring Fishmore Road and Fishmore View and three elsewhere in the town on Livesey Road and Rock Lane. It comes as police advised people living in the town to tell officers if they are planning to go away on holiday so that their homes are monitored.

Mrs Roberts said she believed the fact the lights went out on her street at midnight made it easier for burglars.

She said: "When the lights are off we are in complete darkness here. I want those lights dealt with.

"It's what's going on as soon as those lights are out that bothers me."

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There is no evidence that switching off street lights for part of the night has led to a rise in crime, Shropshire Council said today.

Two-thirds of street lights in Shropshire are now switched off overnight, around 12,500 of the 18,500 lights owned by the council.

Those street lights are now switched off by the authority between midnight and 5am every day.

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The move to part night lighting, as it is called, is expected to save the authority £125,000 a year in energy costs, it has been revealed

Dangerous road junctions, areas covered by CCTV and sheltered housing are still lit as before part-night lighting, unaffected by the changes.

Despite claims made by Ludlow burglary victim Lindy Roberts and the recent spate of break-ins in the area, Simon Jones, Shropshire Council's cabinet member for highways and transport, said police had not told him of any increase in crime in the town overall, and research did not support fears that turning off street lights lead to more crime.

He said: "We worked very closely with the police during the preparation of the part-night lighting project on the safety impact of switching lights off during the night.

"Evidence shows that crime generally does not increase, and has actually decreased in some areas since lights have been converted," Councillor Jones continued.

"We will continue to liaise with the police about any crime issues in areas where street lights have been converted.

"As unfortunate and upsetting as this incident will have been for the residents concerned, we are not currently aware of an increase in crime in this area that can be linked to changes in street lighting," he added.

Mrs Roberts, 73, who used to work at the Unicorn Inn in the town, said she and her husband, a 75-year-old former quarry manager, had gone away on Monday to help look after their grandchildren for one of their three sons.

But the couple were shocked when they received a call on Wednesday with the news that a window had been wrenched open at their house in Stanton Road – and burglars had made a shocking mess of the place.

Neighbour Chris Burgoyne, of Shropshire Building Supplies, had discovered the overnight break-in on Wednesday morning and reported it to police, Mrs Roberts said.

She said they cut their trip short and came home on Thursday to find devastation.

Mrs Roberts said: "We knew we'd got to face it, but it was worse than we expected.

"They rifled everywhere. All the draws were out, clothes were all over the house. All the kitchen cupboards were open and the lids taken off all the tins in the pantry, they looked everywhere you can imagine.

"I don't know where to start with it. It feels like it's invaded my soul. Forty-six years I've lived in Ludlow and I've never felt so bitter.

"The main thing is my mother's jewellery, it breaks my heart. I had my mother's ring that was taken off her finger when she went to the crematorium, and my grandmother's ring as well. I treasured them for what they are – it's the sentimental value.

"They were worth more than gold to me. If they would bring them back I would write a cheque for them right now, but of course they won't."

She said the thieves also took a charm bracelet she was given on her 25th birthday, as well as a silver padlock bracelet and lots of earrings, all in all worth about £800, she said.

But Mrs Roberts said her china plates and a china cat were unbroken, despite some being found discarded in the garden.

Mrs Roberts said she blamed the decision, taken a couple of years ago by Shropshire Council, to switch-off street lights at midnight.

Two thirds of Shropshire's 18,500 street lights have now been converted to automatically turn off at midnight before coming back on again at 5am.

The aim is to save the local authority thousands of pounds a year in bills and energy, and Shropshire Council insists research shows no link to a rise in crime.

But Mrs Roberts said: "There are a few street lights just over the other side of the road, but of course they would have been off. When the lights are off we are in complete darkness here. I want those lights dealt with."

Having been brought up in the countryside she said the darkness didn't bother her, but she felt it encouraged burglars in an urban area like Ludlow. "It's what's going on as soon as those lights are out that bothers me. I can't bear to think of someone creeping around in my house."

The Roberts' burglary followed others in neighbouring streets during the previous week.

Between 8am and 11am on Monday a shed in neighbouring Fishmore Road was burgled and fishing equipment was taken, and between August 20 and Tuesday a house in Fishmore View was broken into, though it is not yet known what, if anything, was taken.

Elsewhere in the town a house in Livesey Road was broken into overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday, and a radio was among the items taken.

A week before, at about 3am on August 19, a house on nearby Rock Lane was broken into but the would-be thieves were disturbed.

The following night, again in Livesey Road, a garage door was forced open overnight, with electrician's tools taken.

Residents in several towns across the county, including Bishop's Castle and Oswestry, have raised concerns over safety and a potential rise in crime since the controversial lights swicth-off was introduced more than three years ago.

But council bosses say there is no evidence that switching off street lights leads to a rise in crime, or has done so in Ludlow despite the recent spate of incidents.

Simon Jones, Shropshire Council's cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "Evidence shows that crime generally does not increase, and has actually decreased in some areas since lights have been converted.

"As unfortunate and upsetting as this incident will have been for the residents concerned, we are not currently aware of an increase in crime in this area that can be linked to changes in street lighting."

He said the council would continue to work with police on crime in areas that had been converted.

West Mercia Police is calling for people in Ludlow to make sure their homes are secure and tell neighbours, as well as the Ludlow safer neighbourhood team if they are going away by emailing ludlow.snt@westmercia.pnn.police.uk

Anyone with information about any of the recent burglaries in Ludlow can call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

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