Invasive Procedures The thought of rioters crashing their way into your home may be terrifying but you can do something about it, both before and during the event, security experts tell Freddy Barker
The thought of rioters crashing their way into your home may be terrifying but you can do something about it, both before and during the event, security experts tell Freddy Barker
MUSCLES MATTER MORE than millions in riots. Just ask Prince Charles, whose Rolls-Royce was smashed on Regent Street last August, or the Notting Hill diners who had their wedding rings stolen off their fingers. When the havoc-minded hit the streets, the divide between rich and poor evaporates and HNWs suddenly want to shed their badges of wealth to ensure personal safety. So, if London sees a repeat of last year’s violence, how can you and your family survive?
The first option is to wait the crisis out at home. Although it’s recommended by leading crisis planners Olive, it is not foolproof. Even when the utmost precaution is taken, the wealthy are vulnerable to rioters’ looting as well as to professional anarchists and thieves who regard the lack of police presence on the streets as an excellent opportunity. More disturbing still is the fact that the Metropolitan Police’s focus on flashpoints such as the London Stock Exchange and Downing Street means that protecting your property and person is entirely your own responsibility.
Imagine you are in your Campden Hill Road drawing room during an outbreak in Ladbroke Grove. You hear police helicopters overhead, so you look out the window only to see darting shadows in your garden. Is it better then to present a visible presence or pretend that the house is empty? ‘If it is just local children causing trouble then the thought that someone is watching them or calling the police may be a deterrent,’ says Crispian Cuss at Olive. ‘If, however, rioters are systematically vandalising and attacking houses then it is best not to draw attention.’
Time is a luxury, though, and the situation becomes more alarming when you hear a window smash or a thud on the door. ‘That is the most worrying thing,’ says Cuss. ‘You have to call the police immediately even though they may take time to respond. Next you have to let the intruders know that the police are coming and, after that, decide between barricading yourself in or looking for an escape.’
It is hard to imagine an Englishman’s home — usually, of course, his castle — becoming a trap, yet the overwhelming majority of London houses are not fitted with safe rooms. The best option, therefore, is to rely on the fact that you know the layout of your home better than the intruders, and to pick an obscure room with a steel-reinforced door, strong hinges, locks and frame to hide in. If you don’t have one, you should consider getting one.
The rioters’ motive all day, though, will have been destruction, so upon entry to your Billionaires’ Row mansion they are unlikely to treat it like a Sotheby’s private view. Starting with the ground floor, they will smash your Chinoiserie, draw on your Van Dycks and disrupt your feng shui. Through all the noise, you should focus on what’s important — your family’s safety — and you may have to sacrifice everything else to achieve that.
IN THE ARMAGEDDON scenario, the rioters will storm upstairs floor by floor. Adrenalin coursing through their veins, the troop of masked teenagers and twentysomethings represents a serious threat as the unfamiliar scenario means they are likely to make bad decisions. ‘When confronted,’ says Cuss, ‘violence is your last recourse. The options are to give them what they want, be it alcohol or valuables, or plead with them, saying, “How would you feel if this was happening to your own families?” All the time you should lower your eyes and talk calmly to all the gang members in order to deflate the situation and buy time.’
Unfortunately it will be difficult to reason with them, so you have to assume they will get physical. Geoff Thompson, author of Dead or Alive: The Definitive Self-Protection Handbook, says there’s no right and wrong and observes that every diversion buys time for your spouse and kids. ‘Bear in mind that legally householders are allowed to defend themselves with “reasonable force” if they have a “reasonable belief” that their life is being threatened,’ he says. ‘Therefore, if things get physical the only reliable response is pre-emption: hit first and hit hard. Your movement needs to be ferocious and practised, though, not just enough to stun the leader but to frighten his followers, too; if you do not put the fear of God into them then the chances are you are still in the mire.’
Here, many readers will wince. Multi-skilled as you may be, street fighting is probably not in your repertoire. Yet, just as in investment, if you’re not first you’re last: every two seconds of delay equals one more rioter surrounding you.
‘Your first attack will be to the opponent directly in front,’ says Thompson, ‘then to the next most dangerous opponent: that’s either the assailant closest or the rioter to your side as your adrenalin gives you tunnel vision and therefore makes you vulnerable to offside attacks.
‘After your pre-emptive strike,’ he continues, ‘it is best to make an escape. If you can’t, then hit everything that moves while screaming, “Haaa-eee-yah!” to underline your resolve, psyche out your antagonists and attract attention from passers-by. For attacks to have maximum effect, they should always be aimed at the vulnerable areas — eyes, throat and jaw — but remember that post-assault you may have to prove this is “reasonable” in court.’
If London sees a repeat of last year’s violence, how should you protect yourself and your family? Illustration by Rich Gemmell
AFTER SUCH A traumatising episode, you and your family will want to go somewhere far, yet familiar. Impulse will take over, and while heading for Heathrow seems natural, it will prove harder than expected as London’s transport system chokes in emergencies; a government source went so far as to tell Spear’s that mass evacuation is actually impossible and that unofficial advice for high-level figures is to get a boat on the Thames or cycle on B roads.
Despite that, it’s likely that you’ll drive somewhere familiar in the countryside. To do so, however, you’ll have to run the gauntlet through last year’s riot hotspots: Lambeth is en route to Kent and Sussex, Hackney to Norfolk and Essex, and Ealing to Surrey and Hampshire. To avoid attracting attention, it is recommended that you forgo the Ferrari for the Skoda and preferably travel at night, avoiding major roads and refusing to stop for anyone.
Another concern is cash. Unless you are prepared enough to have a ‘take box’ of essentials (which is not a bad idea), it is likely that you will leave Holland Park without cash and, after days of rioting, that will prove costly as many of London’s ATMs will be empty. More aggravating still is the fact that shops where you have credit are likely to be shut and it will be near-impossible to make special arrangements with private banks to pick up cash at the very time that comforting the family is the top priority.
All the while, it is important to remember that physical escape is different to total escape. By definition, the wealthier you are, the broader your interests and the more indirect ways that you can be hurt in prolonged rioting. Ergo, when you’re away from your primary home and office it is essential to be able to trust your assets to loyal staff as, worryingly, they can be as dangerous as the wiliest intruder. ‘They often have greater access to sensitive personal and commercial information,’ says Melvin Glapion at Kroll. ‘Combined with the fact that they are authorised to act on your behalf, they can exploit your conflicts to their advantage.’
A summer passed with no recurrence of riots, but that is no guarantee it will not flare up during another long, hot season, perhaps after some police heavy-handedness. London has a colourful history of rioting — in 1809 the mob even rose for 64 days in response to Covent Garden theatre ticket prices — so one would be foolish to think that it won’t happen again. Better to plan now than be trapped later.
Read more from Freddy Barker
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