Burglars hit British Indians for gold amid economic downturn fears

April 4th, 2008 - 10:08 am ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 4 (IANS) The soaring price of gold has caused a sudden spurt in crime in a London suburb with a large population of Indians - a community known to stash away gold jewellery at home. Crime analysts reportedly spotted the trend in the suburb of Hounslow - home to a large number of Punjabis and Gujaratis - in March when the price of gold hit record levels in the backdrop of the global credit crunch and the deflating dollar.

In the last two weeks of March alone, thefts of jewellery from private homes accounted for more than two-thirds of all thefts in the area, local media reported.

Detective Sergeant Kevin Martin said the fact thieves did not take other high value items like televisions.

“The problem is gold is unfortunately very easy to sell on and it’s easy to carry down the street without raising suspicion, unlike a 40 inch flat screen television. We say if it’s precious then protect it - a small safe can cost as little as 50 pounds and that’s a very effective deterrent to a thief,” he said.

Nearly 25 percent of Hounslow’s population of more than 212,000 are South Asians - mostly Indians, who are also the single largest ethnic group in the area, according to the last census taken in 2001. Police in areas with large Indian populations routinely step up patrolling during Diwali, Navratri and other festive seasons to check burglars who target empty Indian homes.

In a reflection of customs in India, whose consumers buy 25 percent of the world’s gold, the yellow metal is also a favoured commodity of investment among Indians in Britain.

However, many prefer to keep it inside drawers and cupboards at home - sometimes within the folds of saris - rather than in a bank or a safe deposit. With the price of gold hitting $1,000 per ounce last month, thieves and burglars have been quick to seize the opportunity.

Fears of an economic slowdown in the US, rising oil prices, and fallout from the sub prime crisis have further driven demand for gold, although prices fell to $887 an ounce Thursday after the March high.

“People wouldn’t leave thousands of pounds in cash on show in their homes, but they seem to have a blind spot when it comes to gold, and family heirlooms,” said Martin.

The type of gold most popular with the Asian community is 22 carat, which is noted for its strength and is known as Asian Gold.

“We are doing as much as we can but we are asking people to try and help themselves,” Martin said.

“People need to think. If they make it difficult for the burglar he might break in but won’t get away with people’s most precious possessions - jewellery bought by a husband or left by a grandmother. It’s impossible to replace those kinds of memories,” he added.

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