Skip to Content

Spectator Money - Features

The pros and cons of a panic room

Always keep your contents insurance in good order — but should you also hire a beefy bodyguard or go even further?

26 November 2016

9:00 AM

26 November 2016

9:00 AM

Kim Kardashian normally hits the headlines for posting revealing selfies on social media, or simply turning up at nightclubs. But in early October she made the front pages for a completely different reason — a gang of robbers managed to break into her Paris hotel room and make away with around $10 million worth of jewellery. There are plenty of questions to be asked about the hotel’s security — and indeed where her own muscled-up and probably tooled-up bodyguards were at the time. But if something like that can happen to her, surely it could happen to anyone?

Kim may be exceptionally visible, as one of the world’s most ‘followed’ celebrities with more than 86 million people tracking her every move on Instagram. Likewise, star footballers are at risk of being burgled when thieves know they’re playing away games; or in a recent example, the Hertfordshire home of Eric Morecambe’s widow was broken into while she was unveiling a new Morecambe and Wise statue in Blackpool. As her son said: ‘I guess that’s the power of social media.’

Not many of us have armies of online followers, but the internet has made it easier to find out information about all of us: where we live, how much we might be worth, what kind of valuable objects we collect, and when we’re away on holiday. Posting a proud picture on Facebook of your new car might seem an innocent gesture, but people with not-so-innocent intentions might also take an interest in it online — particularly if you follow Henry Jeffreys’ advice on investing in classic cars (page 30) and hashtag it ‘#ETypeJaguar’.

So what can you do to protect your home, belongings and loved ones? Of course you should always have comprehensive and up-to-date insurance cover, adapted to your way of life and family circumstances. But if you want to live without fear, there are also a vast array of physical security measures available these days: fingerprint-activated locks and blast-proof windows, fast-acting shutters that separate rooms when activated, security cameras programmed to identify familiar faces and send alerts when they see one they don’t recognise. Britons are generally pretty relaxed when it comes to household security: many of us still leave our house keys under a flower pot if we remember to lock the doors at all. But recent waves of foreigners buying houses both in London and the shires — often arriving from places where violent kidnapping and armed burglary are daily risks — have encouraged us to up our game. Now we’re getting the hang of things and perimeter security, in particular, is improving.


Protecting possessions is a concern for all of us, but for the rich and famous, protecting the family itself is paramount. Formula One magnate Bernie Ecclestone’s mother-in-law was recently kidnapped in Brazil, with the perpetrators asking for a £28 million ransom and threatening to decapitate her. His daughter Tamara now refuses to let her toddler out of her sight for fear of a repeat attack. Obviously bodyguards are an option — though they don’t come cheap, and as the Kardashian story shows, they can’t always be relied upon.

There are plenty of other options, though. If you’re in that exclusive category labelled ‘ultra-high net worth’, you probably already have a mega-basement under your London mansion, but have you got a state-of-the-art panic room? These are mainly designed to be occupied only until help arrives on the scene — say a couple of hours, max — but underground bunkers to protect you from bombs and nuclear attacks can also be installed. There’s even a firm called The Panic Room Company specialising in inner sanctums that have passed various ballistic tests.

The royal family have panic rooms in all their residences these days, just in case the sentries are asleep. When our second royal family, the Beckhams, moved to Holland Park in London, one of the attractions of their new £30 million home was, reportedly, its soundproofed panic room.

Having a GPS locator on you at all times can also help. It might not prevent kidnap, but it can at least signal where you’ve being taken. Firms such as ETS Risk Management suggest that besides making use of your smartphone’s satellite connection, high-risk individuals should also invest in covert tracking devices. After all, one of the first things a kidnapper is likely to do is throw the victim’s phone into the nearest river — but covert gadgets can be hidden in clothing or on the body. Electronic devices also exist that send alerts to a parent when their child (or indeed their mad spaniel) leaves a specified ‘zone’.

You might also want to invest in training to stop attackers getting the better of you. Smart Norland nannies these days have self-defence training and skid-pan driving lessons for potential kidnap situations — or escaping from paparazzi. Skills 4 Security and Training offer a £600 two-day course for high-net-worth individuals and their families which covers everything from being security conscious in all situations — online, in the car, in public — to personal defence measures and determining when you are being watched.

Better safe than sorry, indeed. But if all this fails and the burglars get the better of you, what then? There are ways of making sure valuables can be traced as easily as possible: for example, by painting them with a special liquid that means they can be spotted if they’re ever sold on. But stolen items are often sold only in secret and from hand to hand, never to be seen in public again. For those situations, the right level of contents insurance is the most essential protective measure of all.

Companies such as Hiscox offer insurance for everything in your home, as well as for any specific item worth more than £15,000. Jewellery can be covered when you’re out of the country for up to 60 days, while their Collections Insurance has solutions for the connoisseur of everything from teddy bears to Ming vases. Aon also has a team that specialises in insuring high-value homes and private art collections, with a bespoke service covering restoration costs as well as any damage in transit. Birmingham-based Adler Insurance also prides itself on knowledge of fine art and antiques.

Most importantly, ensure that you are fully covered for whatever you own — we all tend to underestimate the worth of our belongings, so it’s wise to use professional valuers. And make sure you know exactly what your insurance covers. Perhaps you don’t put your burglar alarm on at night because the dog’s downstairs — but if you do get broken into and your alarm’s not on, will that void your policy? Or did you forget to tell your insurer about the ruby pendant your new husband gave you before slipping it into your honeymoon suitcase? You might never get over the sentimental trauma of losing it — but if your insurance policy is in good order, at least you’ll have the cash to replace it.


Show comments
Close