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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 18:38 GMT 19:38 UK
Students prove easy pickings for thieves
By Catherine Marston
Social affairs correspondent, BBC News

Students in a nightclub
Many students go out for several days during Freshers' Week

They're back and they're partying - 400,000 students are enjoying freshers weeks across the country.

Loaded up with the latest iPods, laptops, mobiles and games consoles they are ready for the new term, but they are also rich pickings for thieves.

The Home Office says one in three students will become a victim of crime every year.

In Leeds, around 60,000 students have just arrived, and most live within the LS6 postcode. It becomes a crime hotspot every autumn.

Figures show the number of burglaries has more than doubled from August to October, and robberies have quadrupled in that time.

So West Yorkshire Police have begun a major campaign to get the message to students that they are vulnerable and could become victims of crime.

Hairy arms

Out on patrol with two community support officers, we find house after house with the windows left open.

The officers try the front door of one house and actually find it unlocked. They walk straight in on students, who have not even heard the front door.

This is not uncommon, they tell us. Students just don't seem very security conscious.

The officers put paper cut-out hairy arms through the open windows and in letterboxes.

The idea is to show returning students how easily someone could have put their hand in through an open window and stolen their belongings.

We are stunned to see the number of young people using mobile phones and ipods as they walk through dimly lit, or even totally unlit parks and alleys

After just a couple of hours, the first call comes in of a burglary at a student house. We arrive to find five students who have just had their laptops stolen.

They tell us they're shocked and feel sick. One even says it makes him feel unsafe at home.

The thieves have used a brick to smash a window and then grabbed a pillowcase to stash their haul. The students seem more worried about what's been left behind - games consoles, other mobile phones. They fear the thieves might return for those.

Just a few streets away we meet Will Edwards and his friends. Eight of them share a house. They had uninvited visitors on Sunday while they were out enjoying themselves.

The thieves got in through an open window and took laptops and ipods worth about 4,000. Some of his housemates lost a year's work on their computers.

Will admits he feels rather stupid about the window being left open - it's a lesson learned but a little too late.

Community support officers John Linley and Jenny Allan spend night after night on the streets trying to offer security advice to students. They say many just do not realise the dangers to their property and themselves.

Warnings ignored

They say they are stunned when they go back to the same streets they offered advice on the night before, only to find the same windows open and precious belongings on show.

Mr Linley tells us it is like banging his head against a brick wall. Some students just never think they will be victims of crime. West Yorkshire Police also run a "walk safe" campaign every autumn.

Two students
Students will often have expensive equipment in their rooms

They chat to students on their way home in the evenings about safe routes to use and how to avoid being mugged.

We are stunned to see the number of young people using mobile phones and ipods as they walk through dimly lit, or even totally unlit parks and alleys.

The officers try to point out how much of an easy target they can be and offer to postcode the students' property with an ultra violet pen.

Mr Linley tells us so many of the burglaries and robberies could be avoided. Simple practical steps can make all the difference - shutting and locking windows and doors, protecting property with insurance, keeping valuables out of sight.

But it's a mammoth task. At this time of year students just want to party.

The police are hoping this campaign will ensure the thieves are not celebrating their return.

Students in Leeds talk about being burgled

Students in England 'work less'
24 Sep 07 |  Education
Freshers get crime survival kits
24 Sep 07 |  England
Students warned to avoid dangers
20 Sep 07 |  Berkshire
Burglars target university halls
12 Jul 07 |  Oxfordshire

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