Heritage security

23 September 2021

Discover how you can protect against smash and grab attacks

Close up photograph of a broken window

Smash and grab guidance

In recent years there has been an increase in smash-and-grab attacks at heritage properties.

Attacks are typically carried out at speed, using extreme force to overcome physical barriers to gain access to properties. Burglaries are usually carefully planned, targeting portable high-value items that may be stolen to order. 

Thieves aim to get in and out of a property as quickly as possible, often ignoring any intruder alarm protection on the basis they will have left the property well before any police response arrives, or planning their route of entry and exit to evade detection. They may also target items located near entry points to the property to minimise time inside and the risk of detection. 

Sir Thomas Ingilby, editor of the ‘stately home hotline bulletin’ recently highlighted they had logged ten smash and grab type raids in the last two years, the most recent at Arundel Castle, with the theft of irreplaceable items that belonged to Mary Queen of Scots. That raid was very carefully planned with thieves approaching by foot across fields, bringing ladders and other equipment to gain access. Existing CCTV was disabled and they were not worried about triggering the intruder alarm system as they smashed their way into a display cabinet holding the targeted items. They were in the property for a matter of minutes and made their escape before police arrived in response to the intruder alarm activation.

This style of attack has proved to be highly profitable for thieves, with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of items stolen and is likely to continue to be repeated in the future.

Sir Thomas has suggested any stately home or  institution with a high value of small, easily portable items should consider itself to be at serious risk. Ecclesiastical have sadly seen a number of claims for such losses in recent years and share Sir Thomas’ view.

Heritage window with stone arches and wrought iron within glass

Internal security

Sir Thomas recently circulated some very useful tips to fellow stately homeowners on ways to reduce the risk of smash-and-grab attacks which he has kindly agreed we can share with our broker partners and customers, alongside some of our own advice. The list is not exhaustive and as with all security, needs to tailored to meet individual circumstances.

  • Try to locate portable valuable items away from the building perimeter, as far from external doors and windows as possible. The further thieves have to enter a property the longer it will take and the greater the risk of detection.
  • If the property is open to the public consider relocating portable valuable items from visitor spaces to secure areas, such as a safe or strongroom outside of opening times. If the property is raided and the target items are no longer where thieves believed they would be this will through throw their plans into confusion and they may be forced to leave empty-handed.
  • If there are plans to use safes and strongrooms, check with insurers that these are suitable for the value of items to be held.
  • Where valuables are out on display to members of the public house them in security designed attack resistant display cabinets. Laminated/security glazing should be used and cabinet frames, locks and hinges should be designed to resist physical attacks.
  • Be alert to hostile reconnaissance. As already highlighted, these style of attacks are often carefully planned, conducting recon visits during opening hours, posing as visitors. Watch out for visitors acting suspiciously. Behaviour such as walking speedily through some rooms but lingering in front of particular exhibits; studying nearby windows and doors; looking for electronic security measures such as closed circuit television and intruder alarm detectors may be indicative of attack planning.
  • Watch out for distraction techniques, one person distracting staff members whilst collaborators examine, photograph or even steal items on display. If staff spot anyone acting suspiciously they should discreetly summon assistance. If safe, staff should engage with suspect visitors – they may deter them from completing a later attack (this person is going to remember us) and pick up some useful intelligence about the individual. If staff feel at risk, they should avoid directly approaching individuals and call the police.
Inside view of heritage building ballroom

External security

  • Be on the lookout for any vehicles parked in laybys, gateways and other out of the way places and record the details. Ask any nearby staff and neighbours to report suspicious activity.
  • If virtual tours of a property are included on websites avoid including the location of electronic security measures, such as intruder alarms and CCTV systems, which could be used to inform a planned attack.
  • Review perimeter security arrangements. Restrict vehicular access to the site and locate any designated parking as far from the main property as possible. The further thieves have to travel on foot the greater the risk of detection and the less they can carry away with them.
  • Make sure gateways and other entry points are well-lit and gates are well-secured. Introduce measures to stop gates from being lifted from their hinges and secure them using good quality hardened steel locking bars and closed shackle padlocks. Where there are ungated access points for vehicles consider installing security bollards. Telescopic bollards can be lowered to permit authorised vehicles and raised at other times.
  • Having considered perimeter security, review door and window openings to the property. Accessible opening windows should be fitted with opening restrictors, limited to 100 mm or secured when closed using window locks. Don’t overlook upper floor windows to areas containing higher value items, as highlighted, thieves can come equipped with ladders. Alternatively, internal shutters or collapsible security grilles may be considered.
  • External doors should be constructed of solid hardwood or solid core and secured by good quality mortice deadlocks or suitable alternative. Consult a master locksmith, your local police crime reduction officer or your property insurer for further advice. When reviewing door security don’t forget about door frames, these need to be of equal strength to the door they are supporting.
White CCTV camera on red brick wall

Electronic security measure

Electronic security measures should be reviewed alongside physical security arrangements. Consider the installation of an intruder alarm system to aid early detection of unauthorised access if not already fitted. Where fitted review existing coverage to ensure the system adequately covers potential access points into the property and target areas where there is a concentration of valuables.

Intruder alarms need to be designed and installed to meet the requirements of ‘the National Police Chiefs Council policy on police response to security systems’ if they have remote signalling capability and automatic police response to the system is required. This will necessitate the use of confirmation technology and a dual/multi-path alarm transmission system for the majority of intruder alarm systems.

Intruder alarms should also incorporate local audible sounders, activated upon detection of thieves. High-decibel internal sounders may provide an effective deterrent, making it uncomfortable for thieves to remain in a property for any length of time.

Intruder alarm systems must be maintained under an annual contract and set when the property is unoccupied. Systems can be designed and installed to provide zonal coverage, enabling parts of the system to be set independently. This can be particularly useful when areas of a property open to the public are closed but the remainder is occupied by staff or family members. Intruder alarm coverage to public access areas can be set whilst the remainder is unset.

Further advice and guidance should be sought from intruder alarm installers and property insurers. The National Security Inspectorate (NSI) and the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) are leading certification bodies for intruder alarm installers and both provide search tools on their websites that can be used to find certified installers near to property to be protected.

Whilst a recorded (post-event) CCTV system will provide a level of deterrence, where CCTV is being considered remotely monitored systems, designed and installed to meet the relevant British Standard, BS8418 are recommended.

These systems are detector-activated and incorporate a direct audible challenge facility linked to a remote video-receiving centre monitoring the system. As with intruder alarm systems, further advice and guidance should be sought from security specialists and NSI/SSAIB certified member companies with experience installing remotely monitored CCTV systems will be able to assist further.