A THANK you and a hand-shake in a Swindon living room marked the 14,000th time a local charity has helped protect people in their own homes.

The milestone came at the home of Albert and Joyce Rowe, who were targeted in an attempted distraction burglary.

Thanks to the visit by a Bobby Van, a police wagon turned into a mobile workstation, the pensioners have a new door chain, tougher locks and a secure back gate.

The service is free and comes with a comforting fact – none of the security installed by the Bobby Vans Trust at the 14,000 homes has ever been breached.

“It’s a nice milestone to achieve,” said Bobby operator Rod Law. “When I started we were still in single figures, and it’s nice when you’re told thank you and you can hear in their voice that they are really grateful and appreciative of what you have done. It’s very rewarding.”

The Bobby Van Trust was set up in 1998 to stop burglars going back to homes they had already broken into.

Referrals are made through agencies including the police, social services, the fire service and Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators. An appointment is made with the Bobby Van’s admin staff and one of three operators attends to check locks, fire and smoke alarms and give out advice and support, which can include forwarding people to other services. Visits are made to the homes of older, vulnerable and disadvantaged people across Swindon and Wiltshire.

No security installed by the Bobby Vans has ever been breached, though some homes have been burgled again through lax security such as open doors and windows.

Mr Law was a police officer of 30 years’ standing as well as a carpenter and joiner before taking up his current role trying to stop criminals striking twice.

“A lot of the work is sitting down and talking to people who are often really upset,” he said.

“By the time you’ve spoken to them, had a look around the house and shown them how the locks operate they are often a different person.

“I’ve lost count of the number of times when we’ve been told ‘thank you, I can sleep tonight’. A couple of weeks ago there was a domestic violence victim with four young children. She was quite desperate. I changed the locks because he had access keys, and at the end I left a food parcel from Swindon Foodbank .”

Mr Law also gives out the message-in-a-bottle, a container funded by local Lions clubs which stores vital medical information and is kept in the fridge.

All the Bobby operators are skilled carpenters and lock fitters who are trained as crime reduction officers and fire safety advisers.

They also give talks to clubs, groups and societies on property security and personal safety.

The police provide the uniforms and petrol for the vans and Swindon fire service provides a base in their yard at Drove Road.

But all other funding, including for the three paid drivers, comes through donations. The cost of operating three vans, which are fitted with police radios, is £220,000 a year – and finding the cash can be a struggle.

Robert Hiscox, chairman of the Wiltshire Bobby Van Trust and High Sheriff of Wiltshire, said: “We like to call ourselves the fifth emergency service. We are enabling people to stay in their own homes. The police are not carpenters or locksmiths. This to me is a huge success and it is incredibly satisfying, even though we sometimes struggle to raise the money.”

*To donate to the Bobby Van Trust or for more nformation, call 01225 794652, email bobbyvan@ wiltshire.police.uk or visit www.wiltshirebobby van.org.uk