Rise in ‘home-jackings’ in France: culprits trick way into houses

A spate of high-profile cases has drawn attention to the phenomenon over the past year

A man in a balaclava creeping into a house
A spate of high-profile home invasions has brought increased media attention to the phenomenon
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Cases of home invasions - when thieves strike when occupants are at home, without breaking and entering - increased by 8% in France in 2023, figures show. We look at what you can do to stay safe.

“The targets are mainly normal people who are thought to have money,” said Guillaume Maniglier, deputy head of organised crime office l'Office central de lutte contre le crime organisé (OCLCO). “A lot of tradesmen, company directors…”

Figures show that there were 515 home invasions (and attempted home invasions) in 2023, compared with 475 in 2022. This is an increase of just over 8%, said the OCLCO. However, this is a decrease on the 2019 figures when there were 585 such incidents.

The disturbing phenomenon, which is known in French by the anglicism ‘home-jacking’, has received increased media attention in recent months after a spate of attacks on high-profile figures, including TV presenters Bruno Gillon, and Anne-Sophie Lapix; and celebrity chef Jean-François Piège.

This has created a "magnifying effect", said Loubna Atta, spokeswoman for the Paris Préfecture de Police. “Several celebrities have been affected, which has led to a high level of media coverage of the phenomenon.”

Read also: Big rise in car thefts in France: these are the models most stolen

What does home invasion usually involve?

Typically, masked men enter the target’s home, without breaking and entering. They could also pose as a genuine visitor, such as a delivery person, a contractor, or neighbour.

Legally, it refers to any theft committed at a residence when the occupants are at home.

Sometimes the perpetrators will contain the occupants to a room, or tie them up, so they cannot intervene.

French singer Vitaa, whose family was recently the victim of a home invasion, posted on her Instagram account that it had been “one of the most challenging and traumatising nights of our lives”.

Often, the perpetrators operate in smaller areas, where they can attack several homes in quick succession, investigators say.

Some criminals who perform home invasions are well-connected and experienced, often planning their attacks in advance. For example, members of a Lyon-based network were arrested in Switzerland last month (January 2024), after a year-long investigation, said Mr Maniglier at the OCLCO.

The group had been targeting the managers of Swiss watchmaking companies, and even kidnapped some of their victims before stealing precious metals, gold, and cash from their companies and safes. These criminals tend to be aged 20-40, focus on high net-worth individuals, and are deliberately violent.

However, the majority of attacks are carried out by younger, repeat offenders.

Police say that these individuals are often aged 16-25 with a history of petty crime, including anti-social behaviour, driving without a licence or theft.

"Some have a history of drug dealing and aspire to be recognised in the world of ‘gangsters’ by committing home invasions,” said Ms Atta.

A Paris lawyer, Salomé Cohen, told FranceInfo that “many [criminals or would-be criminals] have the feeling that home invasions are something anyone can do, especially as you don't even need a gun to get started”.

Some thieves show up with weapons such as hammers or tasers. Some are “very amateur teams, who sometimes take very few precautions and are caught much more easily,” said David Sudan, a lawyer specialising in this type of case.

However, this lack of experience can lead to unexpected violence, as the perpetrators may panic easily and lash out. In the case of the recent invasion at the home of TV presenter Mr Guillon, he was threatened with a handgun; his wife was threatened with a hammer, bound and gagged; while their 14-year-old child was tied up with cable ties.

"As the assailants are not very confident, at the slightest resistance they panic, and don't hesitate to hit the victims,” said Mr Sudan. Sometimes they beat up their victims to slow them down, or muffle any screams.

How can I avoid being targeted?

Experts suggest that residents should avoid posting photos of your home, and property interior on social media, especially if these could provide clues to the location, or contents.

“A selfie outside your house is already enough to give out your address,” said lawyer Mr Sudan. “Not to mention photos of the inside of homes, which provide valuable clues.”

Mr Sudan’s colleague, Mary Krief, who has represented several victims, has said that prejudice can play a role. She said that some of her clients believe they were targeted because they were Jewish.

“Two of my clients were identified by the presence of a mezuzah [a scroll of parchment that the Jewish community affixes to protect its home] on their door,” she said. “Sadly, for some, Judaism is still considered to be synonymous with wealth.”

What happens to the perpetrators?

While some have proved difficult to catch, courts appear to be taking a hard line against those who do end up in the dock. Videos, CCTV footage, and witness statements make the task easier.

In one recent case - an attempted burglary at the home of presenter Nikos Aliagas - one perpetrator was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, and the other to two years, including one year of probation and another of electronic monitoring.

Some operators are only given a short prison sentence, and reoffend once they get out, after which they are likely to be sentenced to three or four years in prison from the age of 20-21.

“The sentences are heavy, because there are victims, and this is very often taken into account,” said Paris lawyer Mr Cohen.

“A very large number of teams have been arrested in recent months, either as part of investigations lasting several months or in flagrante delicto. Several dozen criminals have been arrested across France, which must have had an impact on these networks.” said OCLCO deputy head Mr Maniglier.

He said that “the next few months should reveal whether the phenomenon has been contained” or whether it is "a growing trend that continues to be emulated".

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