Tis the season to be jolly - but an investigation has revealed the crimes that make Christmas anything but merry for many Hertfordshire families.
Rowing families and drunken brawls were behind many of the 999 calls made to Hertfordshire Police last Christmas Day, according to figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
And while most people are tucking into turkey and watching the Queen’s speech, our investigation shows the difficult issues our boys in blue have to deal with at Christmas.
They include scores of reports of domestic violence, and in one shocking incident, a woman who started her Christmas Day reporting that she’d been raped.
Our probe offers a snapshot of a typical Christmas Day for Hertfordshire Police, who dealt with hundreds of incidents last December 25 which included everything from drunken punch-ups to racially aggravated harassment.
“People seem to think that because it’s Christmas, the world just stops and that includes crime,” said a police source.
“But as you can see, it’s just like any other day in terms of what we have to deal with. In many ways it is worse because you have that cocktail of drink and family which is often the fuel behind so much crime.
“And because it’s Christmas, it’s usually the day you get some of the weirdest crimes of the year.”
For Hertfordshire’s officers, the majority of work comes not during Christmas day itself but in the wee hours before the county wakes to open their presents.
People toasting the arrival of Christmas in our pubs and bars are behind around half of all Christmas crime, with drink-fuelled attacks and criminal damage committed in the early hours of December 25.
Hertforshire Police is stepping up patrols in the run up to Christmas, following a spike in break-ins.
Police and Crime Commissioner, David Lloyd, said: “Nothing can ruin Christmas like having your home invaded and your gifts stolen, so it’s important that we all take the time to make sure we keep our valuables safe and homes secure.
“Whilst burglary has been low in the county for the last few years, this time of year always tends to bring an increase in criminal activity.
“We all have a part to play in keeping our own homes secure and in helping to prevent crime.
“The police can catch criminals and provide advice on crime prevention, but residents must take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their property, and reduce the chance of becoming a victim during the festive season.”
While police are trying to ensure crooks don’t ruin Christmas for anyone, the range of crimes police dealt with Christmas was as diverse as any other day of the year.
Officers were assaulted in the line of duty, while they also dealt with drug users and drink drivers.
They were called to break up fights, investigate vandalism and to move people on from areas they were excluded from.
Police were also needed to deal with harassment cases and assaults, along with hundreds of incidents such as car crashes and hoax calls which it didn’t class as crimes.
But the crime which dominates the day for the force is domestic violence.
“Christmas is meant to be a time of joy, a time of generosity, a time of caring. But for too many women and children, the 25th December will be yet another day of living with fear, intimidation and violence.”
Those are the words of Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of national domestic violence charity Refuge, who said that for some women and children, Christmas can be an incredibly difficult time due to domestic violence.
“Some police forces see increases in reports of domestic violence incidents at Christmas. This may be because many police forces run high profile awareness campaigns around Christmas time.
“It can be very difficult for a woman experiencing domestic violence to access support during the festive period – a period when her abusive partner may be spending more time at home and monitoring her behaviour more closely than ever.
“Domestic violence is an abuse of power – it is the repeated, habitual use of violence and intimidation to control another person. We cannot blame domestic violence on Christmas, alcohol, drugs, unemployment, stress, money worries or ill health. These are just excuses for an abuser’s behaviour”.
Two women a week are killed nationally as a direct result of domestic violence, while one in four women will be subjected to it during their lives.
According to Sandra, for some, domestic abuse is part of their whole lives - not just something experienced over Christmas. She added: “The police should be encouraging women to reach out for support every day of the year, not just at Christmas.”
Yet Christmas is also seemingly the season to forgive and forget with less than a dozen people suspected of Christmas crimes last year landing in court.
In the vast majority of cases, police either didn’t take any further action or the case was dealt with using an out of court disposal.
And it is thought the the majority of Christmas crimes reported last year those involved were often very merry - with the suspects heavily intoxicated.
Several of these involved cases of drink driving, and Hertfordshire Police will have a confidential hotline in place over Christmas for anybody to report a suspected drink driver.
Insp Phil Bloor from the three-county unit added: “If you know someone who drink drives, or suspect someone is about to get behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking, please report it – you won’t have to leave your details.
“Calling 01707 354 111, which is available 24/7, allows you to supply us with information to help us reduce the number of drink drivers on our roads, which ultimately leads to lives being saved.”
Our data, obtained through the Freedom of Information act, shows a crime was reported every 20 minutes last Christmas Day, while the force received hundreds of other non-urgent calls.
The police source added: “People forget when they are having fun that the emergency services have to work and it isn’t a holiday for a lot of us.”