LOOKING BACK, RITCHIE BLAKE WAS GLAD he had not disturbed the gang of thieves as they ransacked his shop.
“I’m glad we didn’t hear anything as I probably would have investigated, putting me and my family in danger,” said Ritchie, owner of the Lowick Village Shop in north Northumberland. “We have a 13-year-daughter and the thought that the burglars also tried to get into our house scares us.”
The same afterthought had occurred to Cornhill Shop and Post Office owner Julie Jones a few days earlier: from her house next door to the shop (above) she could hear thieves ransacking the popular store, smashing the huge plate glass window and leaping in to gain access primarily to the cigarette and tobacco display.
Difficulties in getting through to the ‘correct’ police force (her emergency call was routed initially to Police Scotland because of the shop’s Tweedside postcode and it was a twenty-minute wait until Northumbria Police arrived at the scene) meant she could only sit and fret while the robbers smashed, grabbed and fled.
As a result, the popular, friendly village store that once was is now barred and barricaded at night, the sort of grim sight commonplace on city ‘sink’ estates and which formerly had no place in rural villages.
Ironically, just before the Lowick raid retired teacher Ritchie Blake and his wife Karen had decided no longer to stock cigarettes and tobacco. “We were running our stocks down following the break-in at Cornhill and a similar robbery in Wooler,” said Ritchie. It still cost them £400 worth of cigarettes, a variety of spirits, a large quantity of cash (including raffle ticket sales, and charity money), a go-pro camera and the CCTV hard drive.
“On the morning we were burgled I went through from the house into the shop at 5.45 and noticed a shopping basket on its side in the middle of the shop floor. That struck me as odd. Then I noticed a pale light spilling from the cigarette cabinet. It had been emptied.
“The milkman had left our milk INSIDE the shop at 5.15 as (I discovered later) he thought I left the door unlocked for him whilst I was elsewhere in the building. The shop felt cold.
“I quickly scanned the scene and ascertained that the windows and door were all intact. I ran through the shop, kitchen and store-room looking for their means of access but the patio doors, store-room and garage doors were all untouched.
“By now I was panicking; I was sure we had been burgled and when I finally tried the handle of the shop’s front door it opened easily. My first thought was that I had forgotten to lock it, then I noticed the lock barrel had been snapped and the door, lock and handle were all damaged.
“That’s when I went back into the house and shouted up the stairs to my wife that we had been burgled. Then I rang the police.”
Worryingly, Ritchie met the same problem as Julie Jones had experienced at Cornhill when she had made her emergency call for police help.
“I was put through to Police Scotland in Glasgow,” said Ritchie. “I was transferred to Ponteland in Northumberland (I think) and was informed that once a shift change had occurred we would be attended to. At around 6.30am a helpful policeman called ‘Andy’ (I forget the surname) arrived and started work.
“We decided to block the shop door to preserve the crime scene and opened two hours late from our storeroom door to sell papers, milk and bread. Whilst taking a statement Pc Andy received a call telling him that a garage in our village, Bookless Motors, had also been targeted.
“At 9.30 a Scene of Crime Officer (SOCO) arrived and did her work. That was when I noticed the burglars had tried to get into our house through the kitchen door, first by trying some keys that were in jars in the shop then trying to jemmy the frame with a crowbar.
“With regard to aftercare, Pc Andy was brilliant: he offered us victim support and was in touch twice over the following days. The SOCO was professional but she confirmed that there was not much in the way of forensic evidence, meaning that the robbers must have worn gloves and other protective paraphernalia.”
Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted it may have been, but a day or two after the break-in a state-of-the-art alarm system was fitted, giving the Blakes some peace of mind. Additionally, a new CCTV system is being installed.
But will the new defence measures be for the Blakes, or will they sell up and move on, given their wretched experience?
“Our future remains unchanged,” said a defiant Ritchie. “I left teaching to be my own boss and it was the best decision we ever made. We will continue and not let adversity deter us!”
Lowick parish council has expressed its support for the family and, according to another local digital newspaper Lowick Live, has asked Northumbria Police to send a representative to a public meeting to discuss the situation.
Lowick Live joins The Clarion in our concern to crack down on the rural crimewave. In its recent edition the editor wrote:
“The spate of robberies in north Northumberland naturally raises concerns in everyone about the safety and security of their families, homes and businesses. The break-ins and thefts from the village store and Bookless’s Garage added to the recent break-ins at Cornhill, Mike Hope’s garage in Wooler and the subsequent ram-raid theft of the cash machine at Farm to Freeze in Wooler [have a serious] effect on everyone. Anyone wishing to read David Banks’ unique response to this apparent crimewave [in The Clarion] should follow this link.
“And what of the local police? David Banks makes some interesting points about the levels of policing in our district, and the lack of feedback victims receive about the progress of investigations. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that no information received means that nothing is known, or has been done.”
Ritchie Blake has no doubt where the responsibility lies.
“In my opinion, the police are greatly underfunded and the unique geography of Northumberland means resources are stretched very thin. The government should look at the needs of each force and fund them appropriately.”
Crookham’s Peace Garden Bell Tolls for Armistice Day
CROOKHAM’S PEACE GARDEN, centrepiece of the village’s United Reformed Church and only a mile or so from the scene of a terrible 16th Century slaughter at Flodden Field, plays a proud part on Remembrance Sunday commemorations.
As the only URC building with a bell in the Northern Synod, the church bell will toll at 12.30pm, precisely as thousands of other church bells peal across the UK.
The request to the Rev David Herbert, Moderator of the URC’s Northern Synod, came from the Lord-Lieutenant who wrote:
‘Her Majesty’s Government’s ambition is for bells to ring out at 12.30pm on 11th November to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice which signalled the end of the First World War.
‘The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport wants bells of any sort and in any location across the country and worldwide to join in, as is appropriate, to mark this historic occasion.
‘This will be a symbolic way to give thanks for the end of war 100 years ago and will replicate the national outpouring of relief that took place at the end of the war as news of the Armistice filtered through and bells which had long been silent rang out.
‘Bells ringing out at 12.30 will help mark the shift in emphasis from Remembrance in the morning to Thanksgiving in the afternoon for the end of war and for peace. This will coincide with the start of the People’s Procession, as 10,000 members of the public march past the Cenotaph in a nation’s thank-you.’
The DCMS has developed a webmap to which organisations and individuals have added their bell ringing and Armistice Day events.
The Rev Mary Taylor, minister at Crookham URC, told The Clarion: “We are only too happy to take part with our church bell.”
Later on Sunday at 4pm she will lead a teatime service of reconciliation and thanksgiving at the church.
The Flodden Peace and Reconciliation Centre and Peace Garden was opened in May 2013, just a few weeks before the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden. Laid out around three sides of the United Reformed Church, the garden, designed by Selkirk garden designer Dougie James, takes the form of a succession of areas representing various “energies”, leading up to the Peace Garden itself where a bridge spans an area of water, “reflecting the beauty of our reality here and now”.The Garden and Centre are part of the Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum.
An interactive 1513 timeline recording key moments of conflict and peace during the last 500 years is currently being developed in the Garden; and as part of the Ecomuseum the Centre regularly hosts lectures, arts and music events.
Beacon of Light at Watchlaw
As part of events to commemorate 100 Years since the Armistice of World War I there will be a national chain of Beacons of Light from 6.30pm on Armistice Day, one of which will be at Watchlaw, one mile east of Ford. The location, with ample parking, has been used on previous occasions and will be signed off the B6353. Hot drinks will be offered and will be available, arranged and served by the Royal British Legion. Collection tins for the Legion will be in place. Proceedings begin at 6.50pm sharp. The Beacon of Light will be lit at 7pm, at the same time as hundreds of others across the country.
Wrap up warm: the site in a grass field sits atop an exposed hilltop and although there will be some lighting visitors are advised to bring a torch. Dogs on leads are welcome.
What a sad story on your Northumberland village stores, Dave, but good on the owners for not giving up on the community, and hopefully the community fully supports the service that these shops provide. An opportunity for the Budding Village Artist, perhaps, to paint a village scene or floral tribute, changing with the seasons, on the barricade? Or even to replicate in paint, the store front, behind the barricades?
Love from NZ– Godzone, Southern Hemisphere.