Mark Howarth interviews Simon Morgan, former personal security to the late Queen Elizabeth II and the British Royal Family. 

If criminals think you have extremely valuable items in your home, you and your family could be in serious danger. It’s unfortunate but it’s true, and that’s why home security is something to be taken seriously. 

So how do organised criminal gangs know what you own and when there is likely to be an opportunity to break into your home?

How your information is leaked

Direct and indirect intelligence are ways in which criminals identify and develop their targets. The gaining of that intelligence is one of the most important factors to the criminal: they don’t want to be wasting time on a target that is not going to give them the rewards they seek. 

From a criminal’s perspective, intelligence is constantly being emitted, either in ways we are aware of or inadvertently, in ways we have never considered; hence the terminology of direct and indirect intelligence leakage.

Direct intelligence can cover areas in which we live or socialise; the house we own, the car we drive, the clothes that we wear. Things that are out there for all to see and particularly the things that criminals notice.

Indirect intelligence can be the overheard conversation of the delivery driver in the café telling someone how the back door is always unlocked and that he leaves the parcel on the kitchen table.

It might also be the tradesperson who’s talking in the pub about the house they’re working on with the art on the walls. 

Then there’s the comparably modern phenomenon of social media and what we quite happily share with the world; the holiday pictures, the restaurant, the selfie with the new car, the party photo with friends, the list goes on. 

All such, intelligence that is invaluable to the criminal is used as they start to create their target profile.     

How is your information traded and used? 

The old adage of, ‘if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime’, is something considered by most criminals, but sources say that they view it as, ‘is the crime worth the time?’ 

The time element for a criminal is two-fold; the time to plan the crime and then the time in prison should they be caught. In other words, it’s a case of effort versus reward.

Within the organised criminal gang (OCG) networks, the groups will trade intelligence amongst themselves. The watch thieves may get intelligence about an art collection, which they can then trade to the art thieves and vice versa. 

As they each have their area of expertise and networks of handlers and buyers, they will then establish a value on that deal; a fee, a percentage or a similar trade in return. In other words, it becomes a simple business transaction. 

A high-profile burglary – how did it happen? 

After appearing at the GQ awards in 2021, the cyclist Mark Cavendish and his wife Peta were subjected to a planned home invasion at their home in Ongar, Essex. The burglary took place nearly 6 months after Mark was seen at the London awards ceremony wearing a £2 million watch made by the Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille, and similar to a watch owned by Jay Z.

 The burglars, armed with knives, broke into their house in the dead of night seeking to steal the watch. Peta, awakened by the noise, walked in on the gang as they ransacked the house – the £2 million watch, however, wasn’t there.

The gang, whilst they assaulted the Cavendish’s and threatened them with knives, were given two other Mille watches valued at £700k. But these weren’t the watches the gang had planned to steal so they made demands with further threats of violence against the couple and their children who were in the house at the time. The gang eventually left with just the two watches.

The police investigation revealed that it was a targeted attack by the gang, who had sourced their initial intelligence from a photo of Mark at the awards ceremony. They then identified where he lived from easily available open-source information and watched the movements of the family before breaking in. 

Mark Cavendish is a brand ambassador for Richard Mille which is why he was in possession of that particular watch at the GQ Awards and had other, similar, watches at home.

The impact of this event on the whole family must have been truly life-changing. To have someone enter your home, physically assault you and threaten you with a knife, all whilst your children are present, would have been extremely frightening.

The psychological impact of experiencing horrific events such as these could remain for years.  Experiencing certain sounds and smells or recalling certain dates, for example, could become an endless set of trigger points for remembering something you would prefer to put out of your mind altogether. In some cases, the effects on an individual could be life-long.

What can be done to mitigate the risks?

Educate the client as to the threat and the risks they face. Identify the threat and decide whether it is actual or perceived, and analyse the risks to see whether they are specific or generic. 

Then seek to mitigate the risks with a series of measures ranging from lifestyle decisions to physical security measures. Security, delivered correctly, is a lifestyle choice and is designed to support not to constrict people’s lives.

We, together with our security partners, seek to educate the client as to the threats and the risks they face, so that they can come to their own conclusions once all the factors have been placed before them. It’s important to show the difference between risk mitigation and crisis management, the positives and the negatives, cause and effect.

Simon has a strong opinion on this: “When a client comes to us and tells us about the sort of life they lead, the car they drive, the watch they wear or the holidays they take, we will come up with a solution for them to live that life, by mitigating the risk. If there is no response there is no deterrent. It is the easiest thing in the world to secure a client by telling them that they are never to go out again and nobody is ever to see them, unless under the strictest of vetting. But this is unrealistic and as security professionals we have to provide a solution that allows the client to lead their chosen lives, safe and secure in the knowledge that we are mitigating the risks and providing proportionate and necessary responses to those risks, which are also legal and accountable.”

The role of the property manager and the security professional is to provide peace of mind and through education we can achieve this. Then the right solution is put in place; you could always frighten people into action, but frightened people don’t make rational decisions.

Education through real world experiences is how we provide the right and proportionate security solution, which constantly needs to be re-evaluated and allowed to evolve so as to keep pace with the changing landscape.

What is the importance of having good advice early? How should stars and the wealthy behave on social media and in public to prevent attacks? 

Fundamentally, it is important for stars and the wealthy to have an understanding of what they are actually sharing with the world and when. Education is a vital part of this process and can help demonstrate the cause and effect of someone’s actions. 

For example, they should question whether that holiday picture needs to be sent whilst away on holiday. Could it wait until their return to prevent sharing intelligence to the criminal advertising the fact that the family is on holiday and their home is empty.

In working with partners like Trojan, we seek ways in which to educate clients through risk mitigation and by creating a process that supports particular individuals to lead the lives they want to lead, but for them to be safe in the knowledge that there is a security process in place to allow them to do that. 

Peace of mind, identification and the continual evaluation of  ’the threats’ and ‘the risks’ are cornerstones on which Trojan’s work is founded. Only when these elements are established and understood can a security process be put in place that is effective and fits with the clients’ daily lives.

Ethics and approach to home property management

One of the core principles at Somerset Estates is only ever to work with those who are the most professional and the most discreet: finding and working with the most trusted security partner therefore, is no exception.

Firstly, an initial contractor screening process is carried out followed by regular due diligence monitoring for each contractor. Strict security protocols for all contractors and staff at clients’ properties are also put in place. Where appropriate, contractors are supervised at all times and  protocol spot checks imposed.

In addition, all staff and contractors are required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Each staff member must adhere to a strict code of conduct and company ethics, whether they are in the office, on site, working at home or online.

A conscientious company culture is operated in the workplace which treats the assets of Somerset Estates and their clients, including financial expenditure, with utmost care and due diligence.

So, if you or clients you represent wish to work with a company that will care for the people and the things that you value the most, then look no further than Somerset Estates.