Wealthy Londoners are paying tens of thousands of pounds a year for bodyguards after a series of high-profile, knifepoint muggings, the Standard can reveal today.
People are hiring personal protection experts to escort them from their cars to their homes and to patrol their neighbourhoods. Some are even recruiting highly trained bodyguards to tail them home from evening functions to ensure they are not being followed by criminals.
Residents' groups in Regent's Park, St John's Wood, Maida Vale and Kensington are paying up to Å70,000 a year for the service, while one household in north-west London is paying Å50,000 a year for 24-hour personal security.
Their decision comes after several knifepoint robberies including those of designer Nicole Farhi and Bafta-winning television producer Denise O'Donoghue, who were targeted late at night outside their multimillion-pound homes.
Security firms today reported a 70 per cent annual increase in "meet and greet" services, which allow clients to call in advance for guards to meet them at the car and walk them to their front doors. The rise has prompted firms to offer additional services, including tailing residents to make sure they are not followed.
Bodyguards have no weapons nor police powers, but act as a deterrent and can carry out a citizen's arrest.
Assaf Cohen, managing director of 1st Class Protection, said his guards receive up to 200 calls a day from customers needing an escort. Mr Cohen, a former Israeli army specialist-operations officer, said: "We give our customer a mobile number so they can contact the security guard assigned to patrol their street or home.
"They tell us when they are arriving and the guard will come to the house and check the area and entrances to make sure it is safe. He will then stand outside waiting for the customer to arrive. When they do, our guard will make sure they are in the house safely and the door is locked. He will then carry on his patrol."
Mr Cohen said demand for his services had increased in London by nearly 30 per cent and he is expecting further rises. "People hear a neighbour or relative has been attacked in their street and want protection," he said. "The police cannot cope patrolling every single street. I don't think it is fair to put all the blame on them, but one criticism we hear is they take too long to arrive after a 999 call."
Most of the bodyguards are ex-police or ex-Army and all are trained to Security Industry Authority standards. They liaise with the Met police's Safer Neighbourhood Teams. Crown Protection Services, which provides private security for thousands of customers in London, has seen a 70 per cent rise in new business.
Managing director Paul Barnes said: "Personal protection has increased to the point we are even supplying a chauffeur who is a security guard." He also offers an escort in a separate car to ensure potential victims are not followed. "In this climate, security is an everyday language," Mr Barnes added. "People have lost a little bit of faith in the system."
The Clifton Hill and Springfield Road Residents' Association has used a private patrol in five streets in St John's Wood for five years. Each of the 70 residents, who live in homes worth Å1 million upwards, pays Å1,000 a year for the service. Association chairman David McMillan, 66, said: "The ?meet and greet' service is especially good for women and the elderly. It is regularly used - several times a day."
Commander Rod Jarman, who is responsible for the Met's Safer Neighbourhoods policing, said the police had welcomed working with the private firms.
But he added: "We are responding to more calls more quickly than we have and we have many more officers on foot patrols than in the past."