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Cyber security, tracking devices and female bodyguards: how the super-rich stay safe today

super rich security
With violent crime on the rise, the 0.01% need ever more extreme ways to protect themselves and their property Credit: Mikael Jansson / trunk archive 

Perhaps it is best to start from the outside: with an intruder picking their way through a maze of infrared motion-sensor cameras crisscrossing the manicured lawns of a Home Counties mansion. Watch them skirt the artfully sculpted pyracantha - planted to draw blood and capture DNA - and arrive at a French window of 14mm laminated glass so tough it takes a dozen swings of a pick-axe in order to even crack the surface. Still, it beats having a go at the front door, whose oak veneer shrouds a core of reinforced steel.

Every step inside the home will trigger all manner of alarms, silent and otherwise, prompting security doors to automatically slam shut at the top of the spiral stairs, sealing in the family above. Finally, specialist smoke machines pour out thick plumes, coating the ground floor in an impenetrable fog. By the time the burglar staggers out of the house empty-handed, he or she will fall into the welcoming arms of the nearest quick-reaction unit of the local constabulary.

This is the vision sold to an increasing number of high-net-worth individuals, turning luxury security into a booming business. Violent crime is rising in England and Wales, and the super-rich are finding themselves targeted through ever more sophisticated means.

Luxury security is a booming business Credit: Getty Images

Take the 'night watcher' - just one of several high-profile cases. This violent armed burglar has struck 12 times in recent years at multimillion-pound properties across the Home Counties, making off with an estimated £10 million haul.

Due to the care with which he stakes out properties, police believe this criminal - who remains at large - may be ex-special forces. Among the victims are the Duke and Duchess of Richmond, who in 2016 were attacked, tied up and forced to hand over £700,000 of heirlooms during a raid at the Goodwood estate in Sussex.

In light of such threats, Britain's moneyed elite is turning to ever more ingenious methods of protection. Things have evolved somewhat since the noughties approach of being flanked by a phalanx of heavy-set bodyguards, championed by the likes of Roman Abramovich.

Nowadays it is about bulletproof glass in the office - Jeff Bezos has recently installed £147,00 worth in his Amazon HQ in Seattle - and tracking devices stitched into children's uniforms or their rucksacks when they are on gap years, so they can be monitored by a security team 24 hours a day.

"Ten years ago it was much more overt," says Heyrick Bond Gunning, a former captain in the Grenadier Guards turned private security advisor, who is chief executive for the security firm S-RM and was previously tasked with guarding Pippa Middleton during the royal wedding in 2011. "Possibly people have realised the brash show of wealth is counterproductive. The really clever stuff you won't even see."

Bond Gunning, whose clients are based across the UK, Europe and the US, says the super-rich are constantly having to change their tactics to keep ahead of ever evolving attempts to steal their money. Cyber extortion and ransomware are now far more common than actual burglary, he says, and a lot of work goes into web-based due diligence and assessing potential holes in a client's online security that could be exploited.

Bricks-and-mortar assets still need to be protected, of course. Recently, Bond Gunning and his team helped a client fit out a period property in a European capital (he won't be more precise on the location) with an £80,000 escape room.

The door frames were replaced with reinforced steel, and escape chutes were fitted, enabling the occupant to flee quickly. Stowed inside the panic room were essential supplies, including separate communications equipment and a first-aid kit. But not Bollinger in the ice bucket to toast one's escape. "My clients are pretty down to earth, actually," Bond Gunning insists.

Surveillance is becoming increasingly high-tech Credit: Getty Images

Lachlan Monro is another former British Army officer (Queen's Own Highlanders) to move into private security. Those who have served in the UK's armed forces, particularly special forces, find their services in high demand on retirement.

"The British brand of security is the highest globally," Monro says. He now sits on the board of Capstar, a private security firm that currently works with about 20 families in the UK. Among the new requests from clients are whole panic floors, in preference to single rooms, where automated shutters slam down if an intruder triggers an alarm.

"Lots of things are moving towards technology-based solutions rather than having six blokes around you all the time," Monro says. "I've put £3 million of security architecture into a house in Sussex. No problem. You build from the outside and go on from there."

According to Monro, parents are also increasingly turning to technology to track their brood, either wearable GPS wristbands produced by firms such as TechSilver or actual chips, which activate an alarm if they stray beyond a pre-determined boundary, say the school gates, in a process known as geo-fencing.

"Some parents don't want a team of bodyguards sat outside school all day," he says. "A way of lowering the profile is by putting tracking devices on a child so a security team can wait one road away."

Despite the availability of such discreet technology, conspicuous security remains popular in some circles. As Bond Gunning attests, "A little aspect of it all is keeping up with the Joneses." 

Take, for example, the Senturion Key for supercars such as Bugattis and Ferraris: a wristband crafted from any number of precious materials, including meteorite, it can set buyers back in excess of £150,000. The wristband is synced with a car, so it can unlock it and start the engine at the tap of a button - it is locked by gears, visible through sapphire glass and secured by a clasp on the side of the watch.

This 18ct-gold, sapphire and diamond video doorbell by Ring and Bijan was priced at £80,000

In November 2017, a smart video doorbell cast in 18ct yellow gold, with more than 2,000 sapphires and 40 diamonds set into its surface, was on sale in Selfridges for £80,000. The video screen was designed to sit inside the owner's property to prevent any opportunistic attempts to prise it off with a crowbar.

Ike Ordor, who launched Starr Luxury Cars in Mayfair's Berkeley Square three years ago, regularly fields outlandish security requests from a roster of global clients wishing to rent one of his fleet of supercars, which includes Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Rolls-Royces and Land Rovers.

The 33-year-old son of a Nigerian businessman, who when we speak has just provided the supercars for a promotional tour of European cities involving Paris Hilton and Chloe Green, estimates 50 per cent of his clients are UK-based; the rest are visiting from China, India, the Middle East and Africa.

"Social media has an influence," he explains of his high-profile clients. "The whole world knows where they are when they land somewhere, so they need to protect themselves from the unpredictable."

Some of Ordor's clients will insist upon a sensor installed inside the car so that the gates to their residence open automatically when they approach, in the manner of Bruce Wayne's bat cave. Others demand remote starters in order to rev up the engine before they get in, should a quick getaway be required.

For £1,500 a day he will provide an accompanying bodyguard. He recalls one recent customer from India who rented a £160,000 Lamborghini Urus and requested two security guards. "He insisted they had to be female and dressed sharply," he says. "I asked why he didn't want male security and he told me that's not very fashionable."

At Starr Luxury Cars, supercar rental can come with the services of a bodyguard for an extra £1,500 per day Credit: Getty Images

Duncan Higham, a former Royal Marine and Afghanistan veteran turned managing director of SSI Risk Management (which specialises in maritime security), says female close-protection officers are also in high demand on super yachts. "Often we put women in because that's more in fashion," he says. "Especially for the wives who want to go shopping in port - they don't want a big thug standing next to them. That has been a big change."

Outlining the sort of security his firm could provide to a client sailing a super yacht to the Maldives, for example, Higham estimates a security team up to half a dozen strong might be placed on board. Before the vessel enters any designated high-risk area, his team will visit a floating armoury in the Red Sea and collect the weapons they are permitted to carry on board.

Typically, these will be a combination of semi-automatic guns and sniper rifles to pick off AK-47-wielding pirates. Might the presence of such lethal weaponry put the occupants off their pina coladas? "Some of these yachts are 60m [200ft] long," he says. "It is fairly easy to be discreet."

Back on terra firma in London, Gerard Cooper, who runs his own eponymous security consultancy and has been in the business since 1994, says extreme violence is a tactic increasingly adopted by intruders. Recently, a client was attacked at his north London home by a machete-wielding gang, and there has also been a spate of so-called "rushed attacks", where intruders literally storm the gates of a property.

Among his clients Cooper counts "old wealth, new wealth, lottery winners and footballers". He deems those in possession of 'new money' coming from abroad to be the ones demanding the most rigorous security. "People coming into the country tend to congregate around London and the Home Counties," he says. "They do see this country as a safe place, but there is still a risk."

He now advises people to keep so-called "duress safes", whereby if they enter a certain code it sends out a covert distress signal to police and security teams. Clients are also now fitting the aforementioned smoke machines - "You can't see a hand in front of your face and it frightens the life out of people" - and video analytical technology allowing security teams to conduct virtual patrols. Up to 32 cameras may be secreted around the house and grounds.

Of the physical reinforcements he recommends, special laminated glass might cost £5,000 a window, while a reinforced front door would set you back from £15,000 to £20,000, depending on the scale of the design. "It needs to be all or nothing," he explains. "That is the problem."

Such a mantra, of course, is practically irresistible to someone with cash to burn and a fear of who might be lurking in the shadows. 

Super-rich targets: the celebrities who have fallen victim to criminals

Kim Kardashian West: October 2016

The TV star was held at gunpoint, and gagged and bound in her bathtub at her Paris Fashion Week private apartment, while jewellery believed to be worth nearly £9 million was taken, including her 20ct emerald-cut diamond engagement ring. At trial, one of the gang, 60-year-old Aomar Ait Khedache, stated that they treated Kardashian with respect and gentleness.

John Terry: February 2017

John Terry Credit: Dave Benett/Getty Images 

Burglars made off with £400,000 worth of jewellery and other items, including signed first editions of Harry Potter books worth £18,000, from the footballer’s home after he posted pictures on Instagram of himself on a skiing holiday. A group of four Englishmen were sentenced in 2017 – to between five and eight years each – after admitting conspiracy to commit burglary.

Daniel Sturridge: July 2019

Three hooded men broke into the footballer’s LA home. They stole four bags and his Pomeranian, Lucci. He offered a £30,000 reward for the dog and it was duly returned. No arrests have been made.

Yasiel Puig: March 2017, November 2017 and twice in September 2018 

Yasiel Puig Credit: Getty Images

On each occasion the burglars struck while the American baseball star, known as ‘the wild horse’, was away playing. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of jewellery have been taken from him. In 2018, 19-year-old Tyress Williams was charged with four felony counts of first-degree residential burglary after prosecutors alleged he was part of a ring that targeted not only Puig but other celebrities including the singer Rihanna.

Nicki Minaj: January 2017

After a £160,000 robbery at her LA home – in which the thieves allegedly left the place ‘trashed’ – the rapper invested in a new security system, reported to include a squad of guards.

Simon Cowell: December 2015 

Simon Cowell Credit: Getty Images

The music mogul’s £15 million west London mansion was burgled while he and his family slept. Thief Darren February entered through the Holland Park patio door while Cowell’s security guard was in the lavatory, stealing about £1 million worth of jewellery, including a £500,000 ring, and passports. February is currently serving time for a number of convictions.

Steve Jobs: July 2012

Steve Jobs Credit: Getty Images

The Apple CEO was subject to a break-in even after his death. The intruder is said to have hopped over the fence of the property before finding a spare key. He made off with a driving licence and wallet, Apple devices, £50,000 worth of Tiffany & Co jewellery, and Cristal champagne. The thief was found by his IP address when he logged on to his iTunes account using one of the stolen machines.

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