Belfast Telegraph

The night I woke up to find a burglar in my hotel room

By Mike Gilson

It must be the cat. She's always pushing open the door and rustling around in the middle of the night. You can sometimes wake up and find her staring enigmatically into your eyes from inches away. You get the impression she's been studying you for hours.

But wait a minute, I'm not at home. I'm in a hotel in the Republic on a business trip. I'm being dragged slowly from deep sleep as the body clock prepares me for another day of strife.

It is, I would find out soon, only 5.20 in the morning. But yes, there is definitely movement in the room. Something stirs me to consciousness and there, but a few feet away, is a figure in the darkness. He has a small torch and it doesn't take me long to ascertain he is going through the pockets of my trousers. Of all the things that would make you wake up in the middle of a night in a hotel room, noisy neighbours, creaking pipes, loose window panes and maybe even indigestion would come somewhere near the top.

But a man in dark clothes rifling through your effects just a few feet away wouldn't come in the top 10, would it? In the nanosecond between non-comprehension and fear I shout out some Anglo-Saxon words of war. He says something like "wrong room" and flees.

Without thinking, I roll out of bed and give chase. Give chase? What was I thinking about? Would I have done such a thing in the middle of the day? I doubt it.

But he's too quick and as I dart from my room, he's turned the corner and is away. The next hour is a blur of night porter, gardai taking statements while I stand in pyjamas and the discovery that my phone, MP3 player and home keys are gone.

Turns out the door of my room has had its security system changed. Trouble is now when it clicks shut it doesn't actually lock properly unless you push it hard. The manager tells me of the fault in the morning with a sickly look that says he can see a lawyer's letter coming. When he finds out I'm a journalist, the pallor sinks to Dickensian. But I'm not thinking of that.

While he burbles, I'm focusing on two aspects of the night's adventures. What made me chase him? What if he'd had a knife? A perforated stomach would surely be too high a price to pay for an iPhone. It's only a 4 anyway. The second thing is, who is this guy who walks bold as brass into a hotel room in the middle of the night? I don't have to wait too long to find out. He's caught on CCTV trying doors on other floors.

And here's the thing. He's actually come in late at night and booked a room as a base camp for his nocturnal activities. But this is not a cheap hotel. How many phones was he going to have to nick to break even on the night? And Raffles he ain't. For, rather than fleeing the hotel when rumbled, he goes back to his room and sinks into what I imagine to be an untroubled sleep.

When the officers knock his door some time later, he gives himself up and my stuff is all found on top of the wardrobe.

He goes quietly and the booty is returned.

Later, I find out someone had paid for the room after the burglar could not get into his hostel. He's an addict of some sort. This might be the start of a debate about how we deal with drugs in our society and how much mindless crime is fuelled by those needing cash for the next fix. How even senior policemen are calling for legalisation of some substances so that we might deal with this epidemic in the daylight.

But, at the moment, I have more immediate thoughts of relief as my possessions are handed over. On that player, lovingly curated over years, are at least 2,000 songs of distinction fit only for the discerning and I hadn't backed them up.

  • Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph.

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