Caught in the act

AN UNSUSPECTING thief was snared after breaking into a “decoy” council flat rigged with hidden police CCTV cameras – as the war on burglary goes hi-tech.

Michael Probert, 43, of Grenville Road, Hornsey Rise, was caught red-handed stealing a 32-inch flat screen TV and a laptop from a vacant ground-floor flat in nearby Crouch Hall Court, off Sparsholt Road.

Unknown to the hapless Probert, the empty Homes for Islington (HfI) property had been temporarily taken over by police, redecorated and transformed into a dummy home.

The covert ruse saw plain-clothed cops make almost daily visits to the flat to put out rubbish, open blinds and turn lights on and off.

Empty packaging boxes for the TV and computer were even left outside the front door to tempt would-be burglars into committing a crime.

The covert cameras were left running for five weeks during September and October last year, with the footage being monitored until the flat was broken into.

But Islington police have denied the new anti-burglary tactic is unethical, and insist the flat “looked no different to any other on the street”.

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Detective Constable Matt Goode said: “There is all sorts of authorisation we need to get. You could think it’s entrapment, but it’s not. We run the scenario past the Crime Prosecution Service (CPS) and it’s all legal and above board.

“It wasn’t a specific person we were after. We look where the hotspots are for burglaries and then we see if we can find suitable accommodation. It was a property that was free, the previous tenant had left and it was waiting to get a revamp, so it wasn’t going to be used for a few months.

“He would never have been caught had we not had the camera there. He left no forensics and he obviously knew what he was doing.

“He was identified and arrested a couple of days later. He pleaded not guilty at first but he changed his plea at the last minute.”

Probert, who broke into the flat by throwing a brick through the window, was given a five-month suspended jail sentence and a 12-month supervision order after admitting burglary at Blackfriars Crown Court on October 1.

Police hope the tactic – used just twice so far in Islington – will serve as a warning to burglars, even though Probert was spared jail.

Five people were successfully charged following the one previous operation.

DC Goode said: “It’s a good tactic because this chap wouldn’t have been caught otherwise. In another case he could have admitted to previous crimes, he could have got a custodial sentence. Hopefully word will get around and it will act as a deterrent.”

The TV and laptop stolen by Probert were recovered to be used in future anti-burglary operations.

Police Sergeant Derek Wright, who led the investigation, said: “The main objective of this operation was to secure the arrest of a burglar in the act of committing the crime. This sends a strong message to burglars that we have a number of different ways of catching them, and I hope it will make them think twice.”