Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Befriend thy neighbour

Last night my house people (they're in the house; I'm in the cottage) were hijacked and kidnapped in our driveway. I was in my cottage, with their dog, and neither of us heard a thing. I thought I'd seen Louise's headlights but then didn't hear her; and when there was a knock on my door a few minutes later I assumed it would be her or Stephan checking to see if the dog was with me. Instead it was a tall policeman who asked if I knew anything about 'the blonde lady who was dragged into the bakkie'.

This story fortunately ended happily. The hijacking happened just after 19h00. Louise and Stephan had come home separately; she drives into the garage first, he parks his Toyota Fortuna behind her Beetle. He drove in, switched off the ignition and was jumped by 3 armed men. One of them grabbed Louise and threw her into the vehicle and then they drove off.

A boy crossing the road on his way to visit his friend saw Louise being thrown into the car, the armed assailant's hand across her mouth as she disappeared feet last. He ran for his friend's house - 200m from us. The parents called the police who were here within minutes. And that's when I got the knock on my door.

Louise and Stephan were thrown into the back with sacks drawn over their heads and they were driven around for ages. They were dropped at a mine dump in the South of Joburg. They walked to the Cleveland Police Station and we were then contacted. They returned home near midnight shaken but unharmed.

Back home we learned some valuable lessons...

When the policeman arrived I immediately phoned a neighbour up the road. He is a good friend of Stephan and Louise. The police needed to know the car make and registration so they could put out an alert. Alternatively they needed an ID number so they could get the registration etc. None of us knew anything other than that it was a metallic gold/bronze Toyota Fortuna (took a while to get to this point!). The neighbour had a number for a relative - we were trying to get any kind of documentation on the vehicle. Neighbours came out to offer their support.

While these calls were being made we started phoning the tracking companies to see whether they had Louise or Stephan on their lists. They were all very helpful but no luck with the names we could think of.

To cut a long story short, a parental visit during the day led to us being able to get hold of house keys - we got in and started raiding files for paperwork on the vehicle. Louise is very organised and this worked in our favour. We found vehicle registration papers and tracking company contract. By now at least 90 minutes had passed.

The vehicle's last position was tracked to Kenilworth - the tracking company went out there and found nothing. Stephan said the guys had searched the vehicle and pulled out the device. The bad guys also took their credit cards and others and asked them for PIN numbers etc. The bank confirmed today that no cash had been withdrawn and the cards hadn't been used - lucky.

If something like this happens to you, you're screwed if your neighbours have no information on you. You could live on your own or your partner may be hijacked with you. They may know what car you drive (or maybe not) but they're unlikely to know the registration number. And unless they're a friend who knows your family (and has a number for a family member) and/or your other friends, there is no way they can get information on you without breaking into your house - that is assuming that you've got some kind of filing system for your important papers.

Last night we met a number of our neighbours and we all realise the value in building our relationships with each other. Family and close friends are often a drive away; neighbours live next to and around us and they are first on the scene to assist.

Take some cake to your neighbours and start building those relationships this weekend. Befriend those you like and can trust and provide them with a piece of paper giving your vehicle make, model, colour and tracking company emergency number; telephone numbers for 3 family members or friends (that don't live with you); your ID number; and the numbers for other neighbours on your street or in your complex - a local network. Give a nearby friend or relative or neighbour a set of your house keys. The police's hands are tied without being able to put an alert out for the vehicle.

The car is gone and fortunately Louise and Stephan are not.

My thanks to Inspector Tenant (Cleveland) and his team for getting here so quickly and being on hand; Murphy '007'; our network of neighbours - Brendan, Neville, Deville, Elizabeth, Roja, Charm and the others who offered their support; and Louise & Stephan's friends and family who came through to the house.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a horrible experience, they must have been so frightened, wondering if they would be killed.

We are so glad that your safe Lee, be careful who you open the door to!

But this is very true, good advice and important, "Befriend thy neighbour". I know because of living in various countries where I don't even have any family and am always a stranger, until I get to know my neighbours and make friends.

Then I can say we are going away, please watch the house. Or can you let my dog out, I have to be out most of the day today.

I quickly establish a network so that I am not on my own if anything happens as Michael travels and it seems that things happen when he is not here.

I make a list of people to contact in his company and my family overseas incase anything happens to me or Michael.

I have been lucky to always have friendly neighbours, no matter which country and what language! that I feel I can ask for small favours or to leave a key with them etc.

I also offer to do small things like water their pot plants if they are away, take in the newspapers or post when they travel, feed the fish, parrot or cats etc.

People appreciate having a neighbour that looks out for them and then they do the same for you.

It is especially important in South Africa where the crime is so horrendous! or for people like me who live in various countries and have no network and therefore must establish one.