UK Close Protection Myth or Reality?

This blog was posted on behalf of Shaun Gowland, Managing Director or Risk Contained (http://www.riskcontained.co.uk/).

It’s cold, I’m walking across heavy snow it’s around -8, the mountains around me are looking beautiful and all I want is a cup of tea, a few months ago it was very different. You could be fooled I’m in the Alps or Scotland, but no, I’m in Northern Iraq, a stones throw from Mosul a place you’d expect to be extremely hot and looking like a desert not an alpine ski resort. Obviously at other times of the year it is and if you haven't felt the 50 degree heat then I’d advise you stay in the UK. It was during that rotation I started thinking about reality and myth, and how that translates to the industry I work in. 

I’ve lost count of the people who have contacted me over the years in relation to job hunting and for help, most I’ve been able to help and some unfortunately have come up short, mainly down to not being the right person at the right time or simply not being fit for the roles he or she were looking for. Some want to go overseas and work in the sandpit, some are interested in commercial UK, London based work. Having worked in both places and environments they are drastically different and contracts for both are also varying too. It takes a flexible professional to be good in both and someone with a strong mindset and thick skin to have any longevity out of either. I’ve seen relationships fall apart, people mentally crack and of course horribly, lives lost both in the field and, unfortunately, after employment if things don’t quite go to plan and other outside influences impact on that person. In short, it’s the hardest job I have ever done and one I do not want my sons following my footsteps in. At first the ups and downs are extreme both financially and mentally. One minute you’re living the high life the next, you’re begging for your next penny, although after time you seem to even this out via planning and experience. That’s just the financial side. Mentally you’re dealing with life and death on a daily basis and playing with both. It’s a highly stressful job and if you’re one of those people who thinks it’s not, of which I’ve met a few, you normally find them in a bar drowning sorrows or using it as a release, it catches up with you too. So, ‘Mr Hard Face’, no emotions will get a short sharp shock somewhere down the line. Over time I’ve been lucky, well not lucky per say as it took hard work and commitment at the cost of relationships, friendships and sometimes making mistakes I can never reconcile, so luck really didn’t play a big part in what I have achieved or haven’t being both detrimental and beneficial to every part of my life so far to get to where I am and to the point of writing this blog.  

Close Protection, in whatever guise, changes so incredibly in the way it’s carried out by the source body, governmental, private etc etc. All are bound to different laws and rules and through this constraints and legal issues arise as well as operational positives and negatives in relation to the overall protection of the person/persons you’re there to protect. For instance, firearms are used by Royalty Protection 10 yards down the road from the private team who rely on nothing more than a badly fitting suit and a smile in some cases. It’s such a minefield and there’s an infinitive void between what’s achievable in relation to protection for the person or persons you’re protecting. One has the Police force as a back up, the private team are lucky to have someone manning an Ops room radio and tracking. What’s more concerning is the private team could have the hotter potato, the more dangerous job but have the least amount of tools and assets to achieve the end goal. One of the most important tools being deterrent, in one form the Firearm, without it within the constraints of London seems idiotic when you look at the current levels of firearm related incidents and the fact the criminal has easy access to a number of types and unlimited amounts of ammo it seems. Picture this scenario; you’re a two man team, one driver and one PPO. Your driver is around the block waiting for the call to pick up and you’re on foot walking down a busy street with your Principal. Your car is called and is around 5 mins away stuck in traffic but en route. You turn to get eyes on your car and another pulls alongside you, the door opens and your face to face with an AK47. “Get in” the attacker calmly calls to your VIP, and she inevitably does as she’s told and gets in. You are powerless, the car drives off. Your day is over and, more than likely, your career. Now, before I go any further let’s cut the shit about ‘I’d do this and I’d do that’, you know the people who will have the keyboard warrior head on and think they can control a situation like that but have never done more than a static guard position in which the most violent thing that has happened was when the Ambassador’s wifebroke wind and followed through. We all know the type, the self proclaimed SME tacticool fool with straight out of school experience of nothing. I’ve had the unpleasant feeling of having an AK pointed at my head at a check point and at no point did I think I could take it from him and manage to kill the other 5 guards and escape the country via HALO drop in through a hot chicks window to be the best lover on the planet. Sorry it just didn’t cross my mind. And I suppose the fact I’m still alive speaks volumes to being a level headed calm person and not a fantasist like we see on current groups and forums gloating about their unarmed combative skills and bullshit backgrounds. 

Which brings me back to the point of the blog, Close Protection in it’s current form in the UK, mostly one to three man teams not the 8 man teams you have seen during your un fit for purpose SIA training course, all unarmed according with the law. Can it really make a difference or are we just rolling the dice? Can we mitigate the threat? Of course we can. Can we totally mitigate it? I think not. I only have to think about how would I go about taking someone at gun point and it shakes me to the core how easy it could be to do this. We all think we are doing our utmost to protect our clients but financial constraints and the client themselves cause us a constant headache whilst conducting our roles. Those problems leave holes in our armour, small gaps to which the professional criminal sees quite easy. Think of how good you think you’re doing your job and I’ll guarantee 100% there’s someone out there doing it better. There’s also the criminal 100% better than you are too so don’t let your ego overtake your skill set and think you have it all locked down to see it fall apart down the line. 

What does the future hold for the private Close Protection Operator? 

Well I can think we can safely say the Government won’t be condoning or allowing concealed carry in the UK any time soon so what’s out there to give us an edge? Well not a lot more than what we are already doing. What I push constantly is routine team training and the use of body armour at least then you can become a barrier that may survive when you instruct your Principal to give it the Usain Bolt down the street and your team is ready to deal with the problem. It’s a hard call and something hopefully we will never have to deal with, but in todays terrorist ridden world you just never know what’s round the corner. 

What would it be like to operate armed in the UK? What problems would that throw up? I can only speak of my experience working armed in another country which is not a good comparison to arrive at a adequate conclusion. What I can say is that I was armed for close to 2 years and didn’t have any problems or mishaps with both my concealed carry firearm or rifle when outside of the city limits. What it did do very well is give me a leveller when looking at the enemy. It put me on a level playing field in relation to what they were bringing to the party, something we can’t do in the UK. The organised Uk criminal and everyday gang member has unlimited access to firearms yet the UK government think we are neither suitable to carry or we don’t need to. Now there’s arguments for both sides of the fence and I totally see the positives and negatives of both. We are told we do have adequate armed response cars and times within London, maybe we do, maybe we don’t. What about outside of the capital? What about at the time when that car/van door opens and your VIP is called inside, will the response time help then? Unfortunately not I’m afraid. Would I like to carry in the UK? Not at this point in time. I don’t feel we are at that point yet and the threat and risk just don’t add up to warrant it at present, we simply don’t have that type of problem every day like we did in Iraq. Will it get to a point we as private individuals need to be armed in the UK? I really hope not, the standards needed and regulation to keep firearms in the hands of suitable individuals would be staggering. Currently the SIA can’t come up with adequate licensing and training solutions to make sure that the current influx of Close Protection Licences are given out to appropriate individuals who can carry out the job unarmed never mind if you were to throw in firearm carry permits and testing. Who knows what could happen? You also have the situation where it would attract the wrong type of person, we have all met them, the ones who get that little bit too excited at the thought of firearms, Mr Weekend Warrior. It all becomes nearly impossible to control and vet. In a nutshell it’s a problem I hope we as a country never have to visit. 

So is adequate protection available in the UK in todays market, is Protection a reality or a myth? 

Yes at present I think it is a reality. Right up until the point your planning fails and it will at some point and the guns come out. And then it’s down to what you can or can’t do at the time. It’s a different kettle of fish and a huge problem. Just make sure your planning and training are up to scratch! 

Sorry I couldn’t go into it further but this is a blog, they are short for a reason and are written to make you think, debate and I hope enjoy. Wear your body armour and train train train the right way with the right people! 

Comments

Constantin Murariu at 2:47pm on 13th April 2016

I can give you multiple examples of countries with armed officer (government or private),and the incident rates involving firearms is below 1 %. I do agree with you and appreciate your expertise for UK.  I think you still have many stories to share.

David Kear at 8:43am on 1st October 2016

I'm all for continuation training. How many operators pass the course and think 'that's it'? As stated, there is no real requirement to arm in the UK, however I have witnessed first hand, Operators returning from overseas, hostile employment and constantly bleating on about how they miss their sidearms! There is no substitute for role specific continuation training, whether it be armed or unarmed. If you have worked in Iraq for 3 years doing escort duties, does this equip you to step straight into a non-hostile HNWI team, where the threat to a principle is more likely to be a camera lense, loose woman or a have-go nutter, than a rifle barrel?

The subject of continuation training and role specific training has been flogged to death on this and other forums, but obviously for a reason. I've been out of the game for almost two years now and wouldn't dream of undertaking a role until I received some form of re-training!

if weapons were deemed a requirement AND allowed by law in the UK, then suitable training, re-training and continuation training has to be carried out. 

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