Close Protection UK: The Times Interviews Westminster Security
After the recent debacle regarding BBC Political editor Laura Kuenssberg; being provided with a bodyguard at the Labour party conference! Westminster Security were approached by Lucy Bannerman of The Times Newspaper to offer comment on the situation and the current climate of the close protection industry in the UK. Naturally we were very careful not to disclose any confidential information or tactics, which could explain why only a small number of quotes were used in the final edit. Below is a copy of the full interview for your perusal, enjoy! and by all means leave a comment at the end:
Has demand increased for personal bodyguards? If so, what factors are driving that demand?
The demand for close protection services in London (or bodyguards as it’s more commonly referred) has always been relatively high. London is the financial capital of the world, this attracts and creates a lot of wealth and status. In turn, this attracts a criminal element of society that wish to take advantage for financial gain, be it opportunist thieves or organised criminal gangs. Savvy business professionals understand the importance of wise investments, and there’s no better investment than in your own personal security. The terror threat has been a driving factor in the demand for close protection, that and the knife crime, acid attacks and moped gang epidemic in London. Year on year we’re seeing a vast increase in individuals, families and businesses seeking out our security consultation services on how to best protect themselves, their families, properties, businesses and staff.
Has there been a change in the type of client, looking for bodyguard services? Traditionally, one might imagine it was only the very rich, or family members of the very rich who might be in need of such a service.
London is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, despite the spate of terror attacks this year, tourists have not been deterred. There has however been an increase in awareness of the terror threat and a steep rise in enquiries from international visitors from ‘ordinary backgrounds’, you don’t have to be rich and famous to hire a bodyguard. In fact, there are no prerequisites to be afforded close protection, simply the desire for added safety and security.
Are you aware of any, more unusual examples? A New York paper recently ran a piece about rich American tourist hiring personal bodyguards, for peace of mind during family holidays in Europe, in response to the terror threat. (I’m not quite sure what exactly they expected these guys to do, in the event of an attack, but they claimed it gave them greater reassurance.) Any evidence of that?
Tourists hiring bodyguards in London, close protection services in Paris and throughout Europe is more common than you would imagine. Whilst terrorism and the threat of being caught up in attack a likely catalyst, terror attacks by their nature are unpredictable. So, what can a bodyguard do to protect you? Their job is not to prevent an attack, but to reduce the chance of you being caught up in one. This is done by intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, conducting a thorough threat and risk assessment of the client and area of operations before deployment.
Whilst on the ground, bodyguards are constantly monitoring the area, the people and vehicles within it; looking for the ‘absence of the norm and presence of the abnormal’. It’s a sixth sense that becomes second nature from serving in the military or police, it can’t be taught on a two-week, two-bob close protection course.
In the unlikely event of our clients being injured in an attack of any kind, our bodyguards are highly trained and equipped to deal with complex first-aid incidents. Many are seasoned combat medics and at ease treating knife and gunshot wounds or blast injuries. That’s the added reassurance that our clients desire, we’re an insurance policy should the worst case happen.
We hear a lot about Twitter trolls, abusive and threatening behaviour on social media, and the coarsening of public debate online. I wondered whether that had manifested in any way, in people fearing for their own personal security?
Whilst we can’t comment on specific cases due to client confidentiality, we have recently provided close protection to a well-known public figure due to a comment made on social media that hit the headlines. This wasn’t the first time a situation like this has manifested, and it certainly won’t be the last. These days everyone and everything is online for the world to see, this makes it very easy for a person to be stalked, tracked and hacked. Equally, it makes it easier for our private investigators to find them and bring them to justice. The police can only do so much, they’re overstretched, underfunded and overworked. When people feel they have nowhere else to turn, they often call us and say they wish they’d have called us first. Private security and investigations will never replace the police, but it’s an effective alternative and complementary service for those in need.
Typically, what tends to be the professional background of personal bodyguards these days? Any shift, from the traditional backgrounds of police/army? Has there been a rise in the number of female bodyguards perhaps?
Bodyguards all over the world generally come from military or police backgrounds, the skills learnt and experience gained is highly transferable and desirable in the private security industry. It’s often requested by clients as they know that training in the services is far more advanced and in-depth than the civilian equivalent. Having said that, there are good and bad operators from both walks of life. Female bodyguards with paediatric skills are also highly sought by high net-worth families, they offer a discreet security presence and peace of mind for worried parents, whilst blending in as a family member, Au-pair or friend.
What are the rules governing what they (bodyguards) can and cannot do in order to protect their client?
It goes without saying, close protection teams cannot break the law to protect their clients. They must remain utmost professionals when dealing with any threats or conflict, the team’s behaviour and demeanour is constantly under the microscope and reflects on their principal. In the UK, private bodyguards are not allowed to carry any firearms or weapons; they must become well-versed in verbal conflict resolution and de-escalation. Should that not work, there are procedures in place to swiftly and safely extract from the area. On the rare occasion were a physical attack is attempted, bodyguards must be adequately trained in some form of physical defence or martial arts. They would use the minimal force necessary and relative to the threat to mitigate it, whilst protecting their principal. This is where training in the police or military is paramount, bodyguards are not trained to go toe-to-toe and attack, their primary objective is protection. Protection of life, image and reputation!
What are people prepared to pay for a top-end professional?
If you had a credible death threat made against you, most would do all they could to protect themselves. You can’t put a price on your life, health and safety. Close protection is not a service you can apply a blanket cost to. There are many facets to personal protection and variables that can affect the overall cost; perceived threats, known threats, the principal’s career and profile to name but a few. All of this is taken into account when conducting the initial threat and risk assessment, our clients are then advised of the measures and systems we recommend to effectively protect them. Ultimately, it’s up to them to decide what they can afford and what they feel is necessary. But as with everything in life; you get what you pay for. When it comes to a service as critical as this, the cheapest option should never even be considered.
What insight can you provide about life as a bodyguard?
Life as a bodyguard is often depicted in books, films and on TV as a glamorous career, whilst you do get to go places, meet people and do things that most people can only dream of; it’s hard work and can of course be dangerous. Long hours on your feet remaining alert to everyone, everything and any possible threats, anticipating ‘what-if’, thinking two or three steps ahead of the principal’s next request or unplanned event. Juggling discreet communications to the rest of the team, driver, PA, house manager and residential security team – if you’re lucky enough to work in a team and not be alone. Often working without much food and rest for several days or weeks, working irregular hours, spending lots of time away from family and friends. It’s certainly not easy, nor is it an easy career to get into and make a success of. The private security industry is flooded, with just over 14,000 SIA licensed bodyguards (Sept 2017) with a very small percentage of those in full-time employment. The rest are competing for what little work is advertised; it’s often not a case of what you know, but whom.
Any myths that you’d like to debunk?
The size of a bodyguard does not matter, it’s their ability, professionalism and integrity that does. Close protection in the UK is more about using your brain than brawn. Of course, you have to be fit and healthy, but you also need to be able to converse with royalty and heads of state, and remain calm under intense pressure or conflict at times. Being a bodyguard is not for the feint hearted, nor the impatient. There is a lot of research and planning involved for many different scenarios or events that may never actually materialise, and lots of waiting around; yet you must remain 100% alert and on form at all times, your principal’s life and safety depends on it!
The final published article can be viewed here: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/britain-today-where-bodyguards-are-not-just-for-the-wealthy-elite-2sbb5ffrb