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Break-in at breakfast: instincts, conflicts and forensics

Monday mornings aren't typically the most relaxing time of the week for anyone. On this specific Monday, my daily round of conference calls was due to start early from 7.30am, and even though it was a line up of engaging and forward-looking conversations, my brain and body weren't too impressed about being rushed through breakfast. Still, had my usual cappuccino, cereals and orange, and just needed to empty the dishwasher before hitting the shower. As I started conscientiously placing back plates and cups in the cupboard (making sure I put them at the bottom of the pile to "give them all a chance"), I began to hear noise coming from the front door. The noise seemed to be emanating from the letter box on the door, as if someone was trying and struggling to post something through. I stared at the door for a moment waiting to see if something was being coming through, but nothing was and the noise was still going on. I decided to go and help out whoever was struggling, and went to open up the door, without even checking out the peephole, and taking a breath to prepare a friendly and energetic "good morning"...

Silenced alarm bell 1: no one typically delivers mail or anything at 6.50am; struggling to put something through the letter box for 2 minutes solid should have seemed a little suspicious..


As I opened the door, I was confronted with a silhouette of a man dressed in a dark tracksuit and a hoodie, leaning against the wall by the door. I refrained my energetic "good morning" as it wasn't a friendly postman or delivery person, and paused for a second to give him an opportunity to say something. And he did: "What's up". Clearly, this was a rhetorical "what's up", not the "how are you doing on this fine morning sir" type. As I stalled for a response, a little bemused, he took a first step forward, and another, clearly decided to make it into the house. My instincts kicked in and I quickly moved to close the door. He had already moved enough to be in the way of the door, and tried to push it open, while I was trying to close it (with him on the other side...). Despite a very bad track record from any attempt at arm wrestling, after a few seconds I managed to shut the door, and keep the intruder out. While I moved to get the keys so I could properly lock the door, I could hear that he was still trying to push the door open, using his body weight, and all I could do was hope that the door wouldn't give in.

Silenced alarm bell 2: I wasn't alone in the house at the time, my partner was still asleep in our room, 2 floors up... Somehow in the moment I felt it safest for him to stay there while I "managed" the situation, rather than call him for help...

I grabbed the phone to call the police, my legs shaking slightly, while a tiny part of my brain was thinking "ooh, first time in 16 years in the UK that I call 999, exciting!". While I was describing the situation to the officer on the other end of the phone, the banging on the door gradually slowed down, and eventually stopped. As I was being asked to share exactly what was happening, I did just that and explained that the noise had stopped - and unfortunately I had no way of clearly seeing what was behind the door. This led the officer to assume that the intruder had given up and moved on.

Silenced alarm bell 3: accepting that the danger had gone after just a minute of silence, and therefore that the police might not immediately be dispatched was a little naïve!

And of course, a few seconds after I hung up, the banging started again, albeit with a strangely slower rhythm, and intermittently, for another 5 minutes. I decided not to call the police again at the time (which I got very politely told off for, later on). After it stopped, the minutes went by, and nothing further happened. At the same time, the weather which up to then perfectly matched the tense situation, with a mix of rain and strong wind, got quieter and more settled, as if to tell me that everything was ok.

On the lighter side of the story, I only remembered as I was talking it through with colleagues that at the time I went to get the door, I was about to put a couple of egg cups away from the dishwasher, and ended up keeping them all through the event in my left hand, and only putting them away as things got quieter. I was therefore armed for my own self-defence, with a pair of tiny egg cups!

I eventually went to wake up my partner and explain what had happen, to his shock, and also well-deserved (and there too kind and polite) reminder that I should have called for help!


Something that struck me quite rapidly, was the feeling of being conflicted on how to react. Of course, the initial instinct when threatened was to do what I needed to be safe, and the main feeling I had during the 20 or so minutes this lasted was one of physical danger, mixed with the fear of losing the sense of security I should feel at home. That said, in the few seconds I had to see the intruder, I could tell that this wasn't a calculated attack, and more of a desperate act by someone who didn't seem to be in a fit state, and most likely needed some help.

Again, the threat, and force that was used to try and break in, didn't make me hesitate much on the moment to stay locked in and safe. It is however in the hours after the event, that these internal conflicts took over, pushing as far as a feeling of guilt of potentially not have come to the help of someone who needed it. And also a sense of being powerless to even try and help, and being badly equipped to approach and engage with people who are in similar states of mental distress.

Of course, my partner, the police, and others I spoke to on the day helped me realise that in the circumstances, and following an attempted forced entry, no one would have been expected to try and engage or reason with someone who was still displaying aggressive signs. I do still take away from the experience that it would be helpful to develop basic skills and knowledge on how to approach individuals showing signs of severe mental distress.


While the police wasn't dispatched immediately, it has to be said that they eventually called back, and came to see me, take statements, and tried to support in any way that they could, with compassion and professionalism. Forensics also came to the "crime scene" (i.e., our front door), to try and collect any possible evidence, such as finger prints. This led us to having to take and submit our own fingerprints for elimination, which was an opportunity to have fun with ink and get our hands dirty (see the picture at the top).

A final reflection on this event was the sympathy and support I received from the very few people I told about my ordeal. My partner of course, as I was very lucky to have him home with me the entire day for support and comfort. But also work colleagues; it crossed my mind for a moment that I would still take my 7.30 call, in my PJs as I didn't have time to shower, but then I took a moment to compose myself, and realised just how tense my body was, and heart still playing the samba... I was met with responses of great sympathy, support, and genuine care. Simple words and attentions which probably had more impact than people realise in the moment, showing once again the extent to which a seemingly small attention can make a huge difference to the recipient.

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