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Houses can be fixed, the real damage is caused to your mind

As with all unpleasant experiences, you never think it is going to happen to you, until it comes to your door - in our case, equipped with a sledgehammer.

Brazen, in broad daylight, they came on an afternoon in July, up the driveway from one of the city's busiest main roads, over the garden wall at the side, round the back of the garage and in through a gap in a recently cut hedge.

No-one saw nor heard a thing. Not even when they smashed their way through the back door into the kitchen and began their, ultimately, pointless rampage.

Maybe they were disturbed or more likely didn't find what they hoped, money, according to the investigating police officers. Who keeps money in the house these days?

But after trashing three rooms too many they were gone, again unnoticed, leaving behind a trail of destruction for my wife to find on return from work that tea-time. House-proud to the point of OCD, the scene was from her worst nightmare.

Her first inkling of something amiss was the sight of taps running in the kitchen, and, of course, her first thought was to blame me and my forgetfulness.

A few steps down the hall of our little bungalow, the horrible reality hit home.

Bedrooms ripped asunder, contents of drawers and wardrobes strewn across floors, picture frames thrown to the ground and smashed and, as a final two fingers up, as they left empty-handed, cleaning fluids and aerosols wilfully sprayed over the kitchen walls, floor and window.

And here is where it all becomes stupid. Nothing was missing but our wee rescue cat who must have thought all his troubles were over and then found himself fleeing again, happily to return many frightened hours later.

Watches, laptops, jewellery, all the usual electronic stuff, were left untouched. As the cops explained, they were obviously (to them) kids after money for drugs, and drug dealers don't take laptops as collateral for their filth these days. It's hard cash or nothing.

Houses you can put back together. The real damage is psychological. Your first instinct is to want to throttle them, of course, especially when the cops tell you the chances of catching them are nil. And so it proved.

But, for my wife, there was the constant thought of intrusion; into her domain and her private things. She worried they might come back and, as relative newcomers to the area, had we been watched or singled out? Thankfully, our good neighbours and the police put her mind at rest on that score. These were opportunists, but there are a lot of them about. So take care.

The irony is they left empty-handed but performed a valuable service to the community in the form of £7,000 worth of business to local traders; raising walls, building fences and installing burglar alarms, trigger lighting and security cameras.

The moral of the story is don't think it can't happen to you. It can. And in the absence of any known cure, prevention is the thing.

Belfast Telegraph