John Naughton and the urban myths

John Naughton has posted Don’t try this at home (adding “Thanks to James Miller for the clipping.”)

I’m thinking: hmm. If you go to the article, it’s a photo of a Daily Mail clipping. It begins: “Going to bed the other night, I noticed people in my shed stealing things.” Odd phrase, but it is the Daily Mail.

The guy phones the police, they fob him off, he then phones back and says not to hurry as he’s shot them.

So an armed response unit turns up and a helicopter and three police cars. “They caught the burglars red-handed. The policeman said: ‘I thought you said you’d shot someone.’ I said: ‘I thought you said there was no one available.’

Nice – except it should set off all sorts of urban myth alarms. First, it’s clearly in the Peterborough bit of the DM – the user-generated content. (Confirmed by the fact it has a reader’s name at the end.) And you’d have heard about it on the news. And he’d not have been in a position to have a chat with the police; he’d have been spending a long time chewing the pavement while the police made sure there were no guns in his house.

It’s a nice joke, but in the end a bit crap – making people think the police are that bit less interested. Classic Daily Mail, in other words, but I’m not sure it makes sense only to repeat it. Can anyone else confirm the urban mythology at work here?

I’d ask John on his blog, but it doesn’t take comments, and I’m never sure what the best email is for him.


  1. That one is ancient and has been floating round the net for years – both on the web and in emails. Definitely didn’t happen in Peterborough at the very least.

  2. According to Snopes, it’s a true story, but not from the UK. The link is

  3. Well ‘based on’ a true story…

  4. Well, it does sound like an urban myth. However, I have had a similar experience, albeit without the guns and helicopters. Last year, one of our neighbours — a single mum — was being regularly harassed by an abusive ex-partner. He would turn up at all hours of the day or night to shout abuse at up her flat from down below. On one particular Saturday night at about 3am we were awoken by a particularly violent bout of his shouting. I cautiousaly peeked out through our blinds (he’s a very big, unpleasant man) to see that he was trying to batter down her door. The wife and I agreed we should dial 999. We did so. After being on hold for about 45 seconds — on hold on 999? Yes, it really happened — I got through to goodness only knows which Met station duty officer. I was told outright that there were no units available to ‘deal with domestics’, because ‘Saturday night in London is just too busy’. I shakily explained that I thought our neighbour could be in trouble this time. I was told to call back if he managed to break in. I was so surprised by this response that I really didn’t know what to say, so just put the phone done. Well, about 5 minutes later this brute did break down her door. I called the police back and to their credit they pitched up about 5 minutes later. But by this time our neighbour had a broken-down door and a bloody face. Great, huh? We haven’t seen him since, mind, so I assume he’s now doing a spell in poky.

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