Academics from University of Portsmouth watch burglars in action breaking into virtual home

This screenshot shows the inside of a virtual property used in a study where academics asked burglars, criminals and non-criminals to burgle homes while being studied. Picture: University of Portsmouth
This screenshot shows the inside of a virtual property used in a study where academics asked burglars, criminals and non-criminals to burgle homes while being studied. Picture: University of Portsmouth
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AN EXPERT from the University of Portsmouth has pitted burglars, other criminals and law-abiding citizens against each other in a virtual reality test.

Dr Claire Nee led a team from the Netherlands observing the three groups of people breaking into a virtual home and stealing items from inside.

Dr Claire Nee who led a study observing burglars, other criminals and non-criminals carrying out virtual burglaries. Picture: University of Portsmouth

Dr Claire Nee who led a study observing burglars, other criminals and non-criminals carrying out virtual burglaries. Picture: University of Portsmouth

Academics hope potential victims of break-ins can better protect themselves if burglars’ actions are better understood.

The study found experienced burglars showed an expertise not present in the the other two groups.

Burglars were twice as likely to find the three highest value items – a ring, passport and necklace hidden in a jewellery box in a filing cabinet in the study.

And they told researchers that they first look for gold - with the burglars spending an average of nine minutes in a property, and half of that time on the first floor.

Discussing the time he spent in first floor bedrooms, one burglar said: ‘A jewellery box can have more money than an entire house.’

Another said: ‘The first thing a burglar does is go upstairs and look for gold. You wanna look for small items, expensive items.’

According to Dr Nee, the two best ways to protect your home from burglary are to try and make it appear as if someone is at home, and try to not have hiding places for burglars in your garden or, if you do, to install security lighting.

Dr Nee said: ‘This was the first study in the world to observe burglars as they scoped the neighbourhood, and they covered significantly more ground in the same time as the other groups, appraising the rear of the properties and the ends of the terraces.

‘Having entered their chosen property at the back, they quickly navigated upstairs to high value areas focussing on portable, expensive items such as jewellery, laptops and tablets and wallets.’

The study was co-authored by Professor Jean-Louis van Gelder at University of Twente, Dr Marco Otte at Vrije University, Dr Zarah Vernham and Ms Amy Meenaghan at University of Portsmouth. It is published in the journal Criminology.