February 7, 2014 6:49 pm

How much can you burgle in 11 minutes?

‘I returned from Davos to find our office had been ransacked’
Illustration by James Ferguson of an alarm system©James Ferguson

It’s never much fun to come back from a long trip and find that you have been burgled. I returned from Davos to find we had been ransacked.

You wouldn’t think it was a clever move for burglars to strike on a Sunday morning. Church attendance is not high these days so people are often around. But Sunday morning is when ours arrived, and there was no one there to stop them: because it wasn’t my home that was burgled but my office.

The perpetrators were clearly well-versed in how this works – for a start, a quiet business street on a Sunday morning sees minimal traffic. They broke in through the front door, set off the alarm and waited. The office has not hitherto been connected to the police station: we have three people who live in central-ish London and all of them are alerted when the alarm goes off. But a combination of the vagaries of London traffic, and where those colleagues spend their weekends, means that they are not guaranteed to get to the office within 15 minutes of being contacted. (The alarm automatically switches off after 15 minutes for noise abatement reasons.)

We can see from the electronic access that the burglars waited for the alarm to stop sounding and then walked in. They were in the building for 11 minutes, during which time they opened every drawer under every desk on the first three floors.

What is in an office when its occupants are not? Quite a bit, as it turns out. We are fully insured and have a fixed assets register but you don’t think to itemise all of the possessions that employees keep in and around their desks. Just looking at mine now: one plastic spinning wheel with battery-operated hamster, two silver picture frames with pictures of the Cost Centres, a leather-bound game book, an antique porcelain bust and several bottles of nail varnish and perfume.

Every employee, female and male, has several pairs of shoes in the office and, if gathered together, would not look out of place in Imelda Marcos’s closet. And we could kit out an entire Oxfam shop with the coats and bags and evening wear that we’ve amassed. People talk about the blurring of life between work and home but what we have – and I am sure we can’t be alone – is the blurring of wardrobe and storage between work and home.

But what did the burglars choose to take? My colleague’s spinning shoes, the kind that clamp into the bike. Limited appeal to a fence, I’d have thought. A Paul Smith washbag that was my birthday present to another colleague – I was a bit sad about that. But when you compare this to the things that they missed, it is hard to be too upset.

There were two fur coats hanging in our office; one rabbit, one mink. They left the mink. One person had left his Cartier watch in his drawer – they took the loose change next to it and left the watch. They took an iPad but this really makes me think that they hadn’t engaged with burglary for beginners because, what with all the tracking apps out there, stealing an iPad or an iPhone these days is pretty much like taking out a full-page ad saying: “Hello! I am a thief! Come and get me!”

What else? They obviously were not planning any imminent Swiss holidays, as they didn’t take the SFr3,000 (£2,000) that was delivered too late for me to take to Davos. We have several valuable paintings, and still do. My Mont Blanc fountain pen was ignored.

In fact, the place didn’t look like it had been burgled, it just looked a bit untidy. The colleague who eventually arrived to check the office assumed that the cleaners had simply been rather overenthusiastic and cleaned all the drawers.

Just in case the burglars are FT readers, and fancy a second go, I should warn you that we have installed a far more comprehensive system that will prevent this happening again. And anything valuable is now deposited in the most secure place we possess – the gun cupboard. We have no intention of being burgled again. Even the shoe collection has been rationalised.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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