Hatton Garden Bank Heist

How Secure are Construction Sites when a bank doesn’t get a police response?

How Secure are Construction Sites when a Hatton Garden bank with a URN doesn’t get a police response?

Over the Easter Weekend, a gang of burglars executed an audacious, ingenious and potentially life-destroying raid on the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Ltd. On the ninth of April, the Flying Squad (a special branch of the metropolitan police dealing with organised crime) provided details as to how the robbery took place. The thieves first disabled a lift on the second floor, then they made their way down the shaft, forced open a set of shutter doors and entered the vault area. They then used a special drill, called a Hilti DD 350, to drill into the vault. The DD 350 is now garnered as something of a celebrity, with drill sales companies frantically altering the titles of YouTube videos demonstrating its considerable power in order to capitalise on its newfound fame.

Hatton Garden Bank Heist

Police pictures show the methods the burglars used the Hilti DD 350 to get through the vault wall.

Having drilled an enormous hole in the wall and thereby cementing a place for their drill of choice in the pantheon of legendary bank-vault-breaking equipment, the robbers made their way into the vault. There they could, at their leisure, crack open seventy safety deposit boxes using power tools (which they left inside the vault). They made their escape without anyone nearby developing the slightest inkling that something was amiss – there was no sign of forced entry outside and even the considerable sound of the drill went unnoticed during the Easter festivities.

The Metropolitan police are conducting an internal investigation to discover exactly how this happened. In the meantime, the victims of the raid – some twenty-five small business owners met recently to discuss what action they could take and were advised by the London Diamond Bourse that their prospects are “very limited”.

Many of the business owners in question, it transpires, were not insured. It is perhaps harsh to describe this decision as naïve – there are few locations more secure, one would suspect, than an underground bank vault.

So what went wrong?

It could have turned out very differently, however. The robbers triggered an alarm midway through their mission, at exactly 00:21 in the morning of Good Friday. One might conclude that, had the police responded to this alarm, they might have caught them red-handed. The MET themselves, predictably, deny this and said in a statement that: “It is too early to say if the handling of the call would have had an impact on the outcome of the incident.”

The call was given a grade which distinguished it as unworthy of a response, though exactly who made that decision is a fact which the MET’s investigation has yet to reveal. Eight hours later, the gang were idly chatting before driving away from the scene of the crime. They then returned late on Saturday and went down into the vault again. On April the 7th, Scotland Yard Confirmed that they were aware of what had happened – but by then, the wrongdoers had long-departed with their ill-gotten gains.

The cost of this robbery is monumental, with some estimates placing the total stolen at more than £200 million.

What does it mean for construction sites?

Now, for any business owner concerned about the threat of crime and theft, this will come as alarming news. After all, if a bank vault in the middle of the city cannot get the police response it needs, what chance does that give construction sites? Furthermore, what can be done to improve those chances?

Well, there are a number of lessons we can draw from the experience of Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Ltd and its unfortunate clientele. The first thing to note is that no physical security system – no matter how thorough, is perfect. While prudent construction site operators have procedures in place to ensure that the goods stored there are protected against theft and that particularly valuable or portable goods are kept under lock and key, they are not going to be able to match those which were on offer at Hatton Garden. Therefore, if your business’s very existence relies on physical assets, then you should insure them against possible loss for some peace of mind.

The second thing to note is that security is something which should be taken seriously, even during times where it seems that no security is even necessary. The best friend of the burglar is laxity in security on the part of the business or home being targeted. If there are weaknesses in your security, a competent gang of well-organised criminals will not let you know about them until it is too late. They will bide their time, plan extensively and launch their precisely-calculated strike at a moment of weakness – such as during a holiday weekend for example. You should therefore conduct regular and thorough examinations in order to evaluate the state of your security arrangements and take action accordingly. Even better, you can solicit the services of an outside security auditor, who will know exactly how to safeguard your business.

One should – if you’ll indulge the cliché – fix the roof whilst the sun is shining.

A word on URNs

When triggered, a remote signalling alarm activated during the raid informs an outside agency. Sometimes this third party is a security company, more often it is the police. These alarms are registered with the police and are identified using a unique reference number (URN). The police will then respond to the alarm, assuming that an incident is taking place – or at least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

According to advice on the Met’s website, their responses take place “against the background of competing urgent calls and available resources.” They also stipulate that any response “will also be conditional upon the number of false activations in any 12 month period, in which case the activation may receive a lower priority police attendance.”

Of course, in the case of Hatton Garden, this police response was at such a low priority that no-one turned up. Many of those affected will doubtless wish, in hindsight, that they had not placed such trust in the MET.