The ‘Property Hijacking’ real life crime which inspired new thriller Our House

When viewers sit down to watch ITV’s new thriller Our House tonight, starring Martin Compston, Tuppence Middleton and Rupert Penry-Jones, they may well think the story is a flight of fancy.

The drama, which runs from tonight until Thursday at 9pm, tells the story of Fi Lawson (Tuppence Middleton) who comes home to find her husband Bram (Martin Compston) and their children missing. Removal men are busy and there are strangers in their home with paperwork to prove they’ve bought the house!

But in fact the drama, based on Louise Candlish’s 2018 novel of the same name, highlights a very real crime, known as property hijacking.

Sometimes the crime has involved people forging documents to transfer their parents’ home into their own name, but often it is a total stranger, impersonating the homeowner in order to sell their home to an unsuspecting buyer.

The crime is prevalent enough that the Land Registry paid out £3.5m in compensation related to 22 separate fraud claims in 2020-2021.

But writer Louise revealed that her inspiration came from the case involving Penny Hastings, the wife of Sir Max Hastings a prominent journalist and military historian.

In order to fraudulently sell her Fulham house, which she owned but didn’t live in, the criminal had changed their name by deed poll to Penny Hastings.

And by the time the crime was discovered, the totally unsuspecting buyer had received the keys to the house, had planning consent approved and had builders booked in for a kitchen renovation.

All for a house that should never have been sold!

Often the criminal behind the scam will pay others to rent the property, using fake identities. One of them then changes their name to that of the owner, puts the property up for sale and sells to a cash buyer.

It’s when the new owner goes to register the change of ownership with Land Registry that the crime comes to light.

It takes a while but the real owners do get their property back.

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But for the innocent buyer who’s been talked into rushing through the purchase, their tends to be no such luck.

That was the case with Penny Hastings’ property, whose buyer lost £1.3m in the shocking con.

Those of us who live in the only property we own aren’t as likely to fall victim to such an outrageous scam, as the home hijackers tend to target second homes and investment properties.

They’ll often rent the property so they can intercept mail and pass themselves off as the owners with forged documents.

There is a way of preventing becoming embroiled in a property hijacking scam. You can sign up for free property alerts with the Land Registry, which means you’ll receive an email if there is any activity related to your home.

But we’ll have to tune in to Our House to see whether Fi gets her home – and family – back in the gripping thriller…

Our House starts tonight on ITV at 9pm

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