According to the figures, nine out of ten burglaries went undetected in Sussex last year. It may be little consolation to victims but it could be much worse.

What the statistics did not tell was that the chances of being burgled were lower in Sussex than in most parts of the country.

They also failed to reveal how only a tiny number of villains were responsible for the majority of house break-ins.

There are 660,000 homes in Sussex. Each stands a one in 1,800 chance of being burgled.

The possibility of a property being broken into in West Yorkshire is four times greater than that in Sussex.

The risk is also higher in Thames Valley, Bedfordshire and a host of other counties, including Avon and Somerset where Sussex Chief Constable Ken Jones previously worked as deputy chief.

Figures released this week by his force for the year ending March 31 showed burglars got away with 20 break-ins a day in Sussex - almost one an hour.

Of the average 23 raids recorded every day, just three a day were solved by police.

But Mr Jones, while unhappy with the meagre 12 per cent detection rate, is keen to point out things are improving.

Figures for the new year, which started on April 1, show the detection rate has shot up to 17 per cent.

Whether that can be sustained or improved upon remains to be seen.

Mr Jones said: "I would like to stress the chances of people having their homes broken into in Sussex is incredibly low and far lower than many other parts of the country where the ratio is, in some cases, horrendous.

"This county is a lot safer than many."

Last year, the number of homes broken into in Sussex increased by 7.8 per cent to a total of 8,209.

Mr Jones said: "While the increase is of concern, it must be set against the significant decrease in previous years - 8,209 in 2002/3 compared with the 1998/9 baseline of 11,026 is an overall reduction of 25 per cent.

"The force is still on course to achieve the national five-year target of a 30 per cent reduction with two years to go."

In a report to the Strategic Police Authority, Mr Jones described the detection rate as "disappointingly short of the target of 18 per cent", although the police division covering Crawley, Horsham and Steyning achieved a rate of 21.2 per cent.

Nationally, the report said, Sussex continued to have one of the lowest rates of burglary but also one of the lowest detection rates.

The figures for Crawley, Horsham and Steyning are more impressive largely thanks to the capture of just two prolific burglars.

Darren Baller and Peter Wright caused misery for hundreds of homeowners and led police on a merry dance for 12 months.

Special teams of detectives were brought in and huge amounts of intelligence was gathered to help nab the pair who would sneak around at night trying countless door handles until they found one that opened.

Detective Chief Inspector Chris Ambler, who led the hunt, publicly admitted how frustrated he was that victims often helped the villains by leaving doors and windows insecure.

The pair were finally caught inside an old people's home in Crawley.

The moment they were taken into custody the burglary detection rate leapt 50 per cent.

The two men appeared at Lewes Crown Court last Christmas Eve.

Baller, 25, was jailed for three years and nine months after pleading guilty to two specimen burglary charges.

He confessed to carrying out no fewer than 108 break-ins.

Wright, 24, was jailed for three years after admitting two counts.

The point of the story is that there are only a small number of burglars operating in the county.

Many get prosecuted but few for the entire number of crimes they have committed.

Evidence is not always available to pin all the offences on them.

Detective Chief Inspector Steve Fowler, head of Brighton and Hove CID, believes there are about 20 or 30 regular burglars in the city, yet there were almost 2,000 break-ins last year.

Only 266, or just under-14 per cent, were detected.

Mr Fowler said: "When we send one burglar to prison he may have been sentenced for a handful of break-ins yet we know he has carried out dozens more.

"And once he is out of circulation his place is often quickly taken by another criminal."

Internal upheavals of policing in Brighton and Hove is also likely to have impacted on the ability to catch criminals.

The amalgamation of Brighton and Hove police was followed this year by the newly unified division being sub-divided - into Brighton and Hove. Each now has its own CID.

City police have suffered from the "brain drain", with experienced officers leaving for London where they can boost their salaries by £6,000 a year.

It takes time to settle into new regimes, to fill job gaps and to regain the experience that has been lost.

But Mr Fowler remains confident.

He said: "The right structure is now in place and further work to improve detections is going on. I am hopeful we will see further reductions in crime and improved detections this year."