Serial Burglars ‘As Skilled As Surgeons’

If burglars put their skills to lawful use they could be as talented as surgeons or pilots, says a study published yesterday. Claire Nee and Amy Meenaghan, psychologists at the University of Portsmouth, have concluded that housebreakers use speed and efficiency that was potentially an “untapped resource for employers”.

Their findings follow interviews with 50 serial burglars at Winchester Prison. They believe that had the felons focused on a lawful job they could have climbed to the top of the career ladder.

Their study, Expert Decision-Making in Burglars, published in the British Journal of Criminology, suggests thieves should be classed alongside professional men and women because they perform complicated tasks automatically and with a high degree of skill.

Dr Nee, the director of the university’s International Centre for Research in Forensic Psychology, said: “The majority of ordinary property offenders are of fairly good intelligence. It may be that they were disadvantaged educationally.

“It means the majority of offenders are quite capable of finding a way forward on to the straight and narrow if they are open to education.”

Dr Nee said many of the thieves interviewed had qualities found in expert professionals.

She said: “Once you get expert at something you do it automatically, scanning the environment and making decisions automatically.

“Experts are extremely fast at carrying out the task. They can multi-task and engage in other activities while making decisions.”

The research found burglars were better at identifying details that put homes at risk than police officers who advise on home security.

Dr Nee believes the research could be used to rehabilitate burglars, teaching them to recognise when they are slipping into their ”expert behaviour”.